On Suffering

So, for a variety of personal and professional reasons (and a few that blur the lines between those two distinct realms), I’ve been thinking a lot about suffering lately. I mean, Dizzy and I have been trying to get the latest episode of the podcast into the books for well over a week now, but she’s battling a bug and a case of the busies, while Baby Ges is fighting off an ear infection has given everyone in my household a case of the sweet-Jesus-I-can’t-sleepies. Not that sniffles and sleep depravation really give me much to complain about, especially when I certainly know some folks with legitimate reason to gripe…but they don’t. Or at least, for the moment, despite mountains of potentially soul-crushing inspiration to shake their fists at the sky and scream into the abyss, there seems to be joy where their very well could be despair, and gratitude where bitterness should rule the day.

I know that I don’t have to tell you that we’re living at a moment in history when the world is distinctly full of suck. Teachers on strike, refugee crises around the world, furloughed employees going weeks on end with no pay and no way to do the work they were hired to do, natural disasters crushing homes and crushing lives. This is all a very large pile of suck. We all know that when life gives you lemons you’re supposed to make lemonade, but in order to do that you need, like, water and sugar and, uh, stuff (vodka? You probably need vodka, right?) But what if instead of water and sugar and vodka and your regular pantry items, you just have a whole background of suck? Lemons and suck – how the fuck are you supposed to make lemonade with that?

And yet, literally every day I am talking with people who are making it work. They’ve been given a stack of personal trouble and a the same bucolic landscape of hot garbage that the rest of us have to see each day, and yet they dig through it all and find the smile that is hiding beneath the rotten banana peels and rusted out car parts. How do they do it? I honestly have no clue. But I can tell you one thing that they have in common – faith.

There’s a reason that we talk about joy and glory when we look to the heavens and call out the name of our God. And there’s a reason that the suffering of Jesus is mysteriously and inextricably intertwined with that joy and glory. Because the value of a God who chooses to become flesh, chooses to live and laugh and suffer and die and love his friends and lose his friends and carry the whole miserable and glorious human condition with him to the cross is that there is absolutely nothing that we can live through, no elation we can discover nor any suffering that we must endure, that is not already known intimately by the God of all creation through his son, Jesus. When we suffer, we do not suffer alone. And the one who walks with us in our suffering is the very same one who consoled the woman at the well, who raised up poor fishermen to saints and heroes of the faith, who conquered death, itself. And when that is your companion on the journey, apparently you can find reasons to smile in the midst of great pain. What a mystery!

I’ve always struggled with the term “faith that can move mountains.” In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus keeps talking about how the tiniest scrap of faith is enough to literally boss mountains around like they’re just our foot soldiers in some sort of bizarre religious terraforming experiment. Mountains are mountains and no matter how hard I pray I can’t just disappear a whole friggin’ pile of rock and earth. But as I marvel at the faith of my friends and family as they persevere through tremendous burdens, I’ve begun to look at the phrase differently. Perhaps the mountains we can move are the mountains of shit that feel like they’re piled up right on top of us during those inevitable stretches when it feels like we just can’t catch a break. Some folks are firm in their belief that enough faith will make that mountain go away, and I respect that, though I struggle to have the same confidence. What I can say, though, through experience and observation, is that a strong faith can move that mountain, can shift it just enough that it no longer feels like it is pushing down straight onto my chest, shoulders, heart, spleen, and other vital bits . (Oh Christ, not my liver – I need that!)

Sometimes moving a mountain means just giving ourselves room to breathe. Or, as anyone with even a mustard seed of faith would tell you, it means turning our eyes toward the one who can carry our burden, move the mountain for us, and give us the space that we need to expand our lungs and breathe in the Spirit that brings a smile to our face. It’s something that I can only do on my very best days, if at all. But it is something that I’m now seeing every single day from people who have it figured out far better than I do. And in putting their own faith on display, letting it guide them through the mess of this world, and finding ways to move mountains, they’re showing me the Spirit that brings a smile to my own face.  I thank them for that, and I humbly ask that you say a prayer for them that they might keep on walking the walk.

So hopefully, Dizzy’s mild (easy for me to say!) suffering will end soon, and we will finally get to bring you our Drunk Lives of the Martyrs episode! Until then, I would direct you toward our Drunk Lives of St. Patrick & St. Brigid episode to tide you over. Dizzy will likely suffer a bit when she sees that suggestion. But, you know, add it to the list!

-Ges, #FightOnZev

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