We Can Do Hard Things
Updated: Mar 2, 2021
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Mark 8:31-38
“We can do hard things.” This is one of the favorite phrases of Glennon Doyle, the well known Christian mommy blogger turned best-selling self-help author. She’s best-selling for a reason. She’s overcome alcohol addiction. She manages an eating disorder. She’s been incredibly vulnerable about her difficult marriage to a good man that ended, and the beginning of an entirely different relationship and marriage to a woman. She writes about all of this in a raw, authentic way.
I got to know more about Glennon because the woman she married is Abby Wambach, maybe the most famous American soccer player ever. And y’all know I love soccer. So I took note when it happened. My wife Rachel, on the other hand, had a long phase of being obsessed with Christian mommy bloggers and was very familiar with Glennon, pre-Abby. When they got together, it was like our worlds aligned.
But that’s a little beside the point. The point is: Glennon has done hard things. She’s overcome. And what’s beautiful about her story is, as she’s overcome, she’s continually widened her perspective of hard things. It started with herself. But once she got a handle on her individual struggles, once she really started to blossom into who God made her to be, she looked beyond herself to the hard things around her. She started a nonprofit called Together Rising that quickly mobilizes wherever there’s struggle in the world. This month, they raised over $100,000 for people in Texas. They’ve supported refugees in Greece, built a maternity ward in Haiti, and helped abandoned kids on the streets of Indianapolis.
“We can do hard things,” she says over and over again. Which implies that it is worth doing hard things. That there’s a way of life so profound that we are called to do hard things to find it. That there’s a love that is so important that we are called to do hard things to live it.
We can do hard things, and we must do hard things. I think that’s exactly what Jesus is saying in today’s gospel from Mark.
There are certain hard things that our culture celebrates, and rightfully so! Just this week, NASA landed a rover on Mars that has a working helicopter attached to it. Mars is 135 million miles away. The sun is closer. A lot closer actually. Do you know how much thought and intelligence and collaboration it takes to first create a technologically stunning piece of equipment that can do mind-blowing science remotely. Do you know how hard it is to then send that equipment 135 million miles through space, land it on a different planet, and make sure it still works when it gets there? It’s incredible, and I’m amazed every time a photo from Mars crosses my feeds.
We can do hard things. When we want to. We can send a rover to Mars but we can’t—or perhaps won’t—figure out how to pull every single American out of poverty. There is more than enough in America, the richest country on the planet, to house and feed every single person who lives here. It’s not a failure of resources, it’s a failure of will. It’s a failure of love.
You’ve heard me say it before, and I’ll say it again: Love is the only commandment Jesus gave us. Love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. I think it’s tempting to only focus on the love that is easy. To only focus on Jesus’ love through healing, through welcoming the stranger, through miraculously feeding 5,000 with a couple fish a few loaves of bread. And don’t get me wrong, those ways of love are beautiful and important.
But today’s gospel brings us to a harder side of love: “For the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the good news I bring which is love,” Jesus says, “I will be rejected, and I will be killed.”
Peter doesn’t want to hear it. In his mind, messiahs don’t die, they conquer. In his mind, love shouldn’t be that hard.
Jesus shuts that down immediately. “Get behind me Satan!” Then he says, “That’s not how the gospel works. The gospel calls us to live God’s love no matter how hard it is.” Then Jesus looks out at the gathered crowd and his disciples, and he says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
What are you willing to sacrifice to live the gospel? He asks. How uncomfortable are you willing to get to live the love God calls us to? And let me remind you, this is right after he just said he was going to be rejected by everyone and killed. Jesus will walk his talk.
And I want to be very careful about how we interpret this, because righteous suffering has been used to justify all sorts of injustice and oppression. Instead of attempting to change the situation of people experiencing poverty, there is a temptation to celebrate their suffering as pluckiness, perseverance.
Jesus didn’t say that the poor would always be among us because he believed their suffering was righteous. He said the poor would always be among us because he knew that until God’s kingdom comes, sin would always be among us, greed would always be among us. And where there is sin and greed there will always be poverty.
Jesus isn’t talking about selective righteous suffering, selective discomfort, selective sacrifice. He’s not asking some people to do hard things while letting others sit back.
No, he said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”
He’s is not mincing words: if we seek the profit and comfort of this world over the love that the gospel calls us to, we’re not following Jesus. If we’re not willing to sacrifice, to get uncomfortable for the sake of God and our neighbor, we’re not following Jesus.
I think we’d be surprised to discover what makes us comfortable, what we’re not willing to sacrifice. In our culture, the thing we are often most comfortable with is busy-ness. The thing we are often least willing to sacrifice is productivity.
Have y’all heard of the Nap Bishop? Tricia Hersey is the founder of the Nap Ministry, an organization that advocates for rest as a form of resistance against burnout culture. She’s a Black woman whose preaching teaches us how racism is intrinsically connected to our idolization of productivity. It’s not a big leap to make. Just think about slavery, which was all about free and forced labor, which is all about maximum productivity. Racism is the dehumanization of certain bodies because they look different, and viewing bodies solely as means of production is the ultimate dehumanization.
The Nap Bishop’s church is online. Her instagram posts preach to me every day. “Exhaustion will not create liberation,” one post says. “Your obsession with productivity as a function of your worth is preventing you from tending to your soul. Naps are soul care.”
When our highest value is productivity, we dehumanize ourselves, which is to say we separate ourselves from God. The Nap Bishop wants us to rest so that we can love the way Jesus calls us to love: love God, love our neighbor, and love ourselves. Sometimes resting is the hard thing we’re called to do.
Yes, we are called to show up for our neighbor. We’re called to advocate for justice and dismantle systems of oppression. The law, the prophets, and Jesus all tell us that that is how we live our faith. But we can’t do that if we’re exhausted all the time. Sometimes resting is the hard thing we’re called to do.
It’s what we’ve committed to as a community this Lent, this time of winter gray and hitting pandemic walls. Release and respite.
So I close with a prayer from the Nap Ministry: “I wish us all tight hugs, deep eye contact, long naps, warm blankets, and a community that asks the question: ‘How is your heart?’ and waits and listens for the answer silently. May the ground under us hold up with strength and if we need to collapse into grief, may a soft pillow be there.”