Staying Awake with Others

My eight-year-old son has been having many bad dreams lately. They often come just as he is drifting off to sleep. He will come out of his room and ask me to say the “bad dream protection prayer” again that we say each night and then sit outside his door for a little while. That simple act of my sitting there brings him comfort and eventually he does drift off into a peaceful sleep.

So many people are having a hard time right now. It seems that even in my own small circle of friends, everyone is hurting in one way or another. As one of my friends aptly phrased it, “everyone is under attack.” Unlike a child’s nightmares, these problems are not so easily solved. They might not be solvable at all. The hurts go deep. There is the pain of disease and failed relationships. There is economic pain and lost jobs. There is psychological and spiritual pain. I can fix absolutely none of these problems. Neither can any of my friends. We offer whatever assistance we can which is helpful, but this assistance is like putting a small bandage on a gaping wound. We pray and turn the problems over to God which is of utmost importance, but sometimes we still want to do more.

So, then, what can we do for others in their time of heartache and need? I’m reminded of Jesus suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Then Jesus came with them to a plot of land called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Stay here while I go over there to pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee with him. And he began to feel sadness and anguish. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is sorrowful to the point of death. Wait here and stay awake with me.’ . . . He came back to the disciples and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, ‘So you had not the strength to stay awake with me for one hour?’”

Our Lord and Savior was in the midst of the greatest suffering of His life. He knew what was coming and was terrified. His humanity was at a breaking point. He knew his friends could do little to help him. He would have to face his future no matter what. The pain was not going away. Yet, the thing he desired most at that moment was to have his friends with him. It isn’t always easy to sit with someone in the midst of their pain. It isn’t easy to let the tears fall or listen to the anger and suffering, especially when we know we are powerless to help the cause. It is easy to get caught up in our own pain and feel that we don’t have the time to spend with another’s burden. Like the disciples, we may simply be tired and want to sleep. Yet, sometimes that simple act of sitting with someone and sharing in their pain can be a huge help. We may not be able to alleviate another’s suffering but we can help bear it. Like a small child who takes comfort in the simple presence of his mother, staying awake with another can be a huge help. May we all be there for each other during these difficult days.

Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur


Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur writes from western Massachusetts where she lives with her husband and two sons. A Senior Editor with Catholic, she blogs at

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  • sonjacorbitt

    I absolutely love this article. Ten years ago, when I was even more of a doofus than now, my best friend’s only son, 20, died in a car crash after having fallen asleep. I had no experience with death at that time, and was still in the “I don’t go to funerals” stage. She is old enough to be my mother, but we were very close, and the only thing I knew to do was just sit with her. I rarely said anything at all as she plodded the gauntlet of making arrangements, had a wake and funeral. But she still says the kindest thing anyone did for her was when I kept her dirty Kleenexes changed out for her as she spoke relentlessly to family and friends. That utterly stuns me. It broke my heart. It still does, but I learned one of the biggest lessons of my life, and try my very best, now, to “stay awake with others.” While it is sometimes the only helpless thing we can do, it is often exactly enough.

  • Thank you, Patrice. Yes, we are all hurting now.

  • Warren Jewell

    And, in each our own Gethsemane, HE watches, HE prays with His beloved, HE weeps as His child weeps, HE pleads as His child pleads. HE’s been there, and knows, and cares.

    You don’t need to get up and look – HE is right there. When it seems darkest and loneliest, when we feel as if we have been abandoned, He already has us to His shoulder, and holds us tight and close. Oh, how often it has needed me to think I am in darkness that I find that if I but have my eyes see and my ears hear, I am being gently comforted and in refuge in His golden light.

    It is paradox that He has us suffer that we have His comfort, but such is the way of God for fallen man. And we learn here to join Him in others’ Gethsemanes. We learn, maybe, simply and quietly to just be there, to make our presence with His Presence, and let love do all the rest.

    When something is emptied from our lives, from filling our needs, may we know how love still fills the holes as it can, as He will. We are not and cannot be alone.