By Andrew Peterson with Patrick Butler
In a projected feel-good world of comfy cozy Christianity, singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson’s world and walk with his Maker was at times cold, dark, lonely, harboring anger and frustration at God, asking “Why?”—and getting only silence in return.
In those moments, Jesus is more a cold stone statue, a picture of suffering, rather than the laughing, lamb-holding Savior gently leading a timid flock some have made the Creator of the world to be.
And it was precisely at that moment of realization—in a bleak pre-dawn winter’s garden—with little light and no warmth to speak of, while viewing a statue of Christ’s suffering at Gethsemane, that Peterson said he had one of his greatest moments of understanding.
God had suffered too, he said, at a greater level than he had. God understood and he knew. Peterson would later say Christ realized “on a visceral level” what suffering was, and significantly, hadn’t left him to bear it alone in this world. God was still there—perhaps in stoic silence, bearing the grief—but he was still there.
The garden realization was an epiphany for the then 26-year-old Peterson. His world had boiled over with disappointments despite his best efforts to make it otherwise. His struggles had led him to a three-day retreat of earnest prayer and fasting that yielded “exactly…nothing,” he said.
That exercise was yet another disappointment in what seemed like a continual series of discouragements.
“When I was in the deepest and darkest part of that season—when I was angriest at God, and felt the most abandoned by him—I consented to a prayer retreat at a Trappist monastery, even though I didn’t really want to. It was January or February, and it was cold.”
He prayed in a monk’s cell almost the entire time, he said. “I can see now what I was trying to do by fasting and praying, not really leaving my cell. I was trying to earn an answer from God. I thought If I could prove to him I was a good boy then…he’d better answer me He’d better explain himself.
When the three days were over,” he said, “I was just as alone as before. I just felt this terrible silence from him. I got ready to leave and was packing my stuff in the car. It was cold, dark, the sun had not yet risen and I thought, ‘Well, that was a gigantic waste of time.’”
Something made him view his surroundings a final time. “I looked up and saw a path to a garden and decided to walk it,” he said. “I happened upon a statue of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.”