This is a guest post by Gus Hardy.
I jolted up to the sound of my alarm, spilling out of a padded green sleeping bag that would have to do in the way of bed sheets until I made the obligatory trip to the Goodwill to restock supplies. I gazed around the small, grey-walled room that I had dubbed “The Hermitage” on moving in to a small house on Stephens Street. The other Jesuit Volunteers and I had spent the better part of an hour last night debating over who got which room, an argument made all the sharper considering that we had just made a fourteen-hour drive from Oregon to Missoula, Montana. It was not, to say the least, conducive to a good night’s sleep.
A different reality
I had dreamed the night before that I took a well-paying job back home in the Valley, and got on a BART to training instead of the Oakland airport, leaving JVC Northwest behind. In all honesty, it was a dream that had plenty of grounding in reality. My friends were starting their careers at Disney, Facebook, EY, Kiva, and here I was going off to Montana to work at a homeless shelter for a year out of a desire to serve God and God’s people. A noble principle, no doubt, but one that requires a lot of strength that I didn’t feel I necessarily have. With that, there was only one thing I could do. I scrawled a note, ran out of the house and into the city I’d lived in for all of eight hours, and crossed the Clark Fork River, barely noticing any of the new landscape behind me. There I saw, in the distance, a Church that we’d driven past last night, a landmark that stood out and beckoned. I had to center myself, and answer the same call that had led me to Montana, this time on a smaller scale—to a church, not a state.
I got in, sat down, and belted out a few hymns with the congregation, happy that I’d wandered into the town’s Jesuit parish. Loyola’s boys usually have good homilies, and I’m sure that this one would be up to par. What I was not prepared for was that the lector would speak the words of one of the passages dearest to my heart.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2a)
Reeling from Paul’s words, I was just beginning to string together some thoughts about “running the race” in Missoula as the pastor got up and launched into an Olympics-themed homily on running. “We are not put on this earth to begin a race, but to finish it,” he said. “We run towards the cross and the suffering and heaven that it represents.” The suffering and heaven, I repeated to myself, feeling those words burn into my skull.
An uncertain year
I walked out, shook hands with the pastor, and thanked him, but words could not express what I was truly feeling. So much chaos, uncertainty, and desire was finally coming to a swirling resolution in my mind. This was going to be a hard year, but I knew henceforth that I had to stay with it. I had to complete this year, run this race, serve God and God’s people like I had planned, only not how I’d planned. I walked back, on a high from receiving Christ and his word. I crossed the same bridge and saw the sun rise in the sky, shooting knives of light that lapped and danced on the Clark Fork. I resolved then and there to not only serve, but to mark this year by running the Missoula marathon next July, something that I’d considered, but not solidified.
Here and now, as you read this, I make this promise. I will run the race. I will keep the faith. As Joyce did not write—Serviam.
Gus Hardy is a recent graduate of Santa Clara University where he studied Theology and Political Theory. Currently serving in Montana with JVC Northwest, Gus spends his days working at a shelter, running, praying, cooking for his community, and making his way through ‘Infinite Jest’ and the collected works of Flannery O’Connor.