Abandon yourself to God . . . Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny. May God bless you and keep you—until then.
Type “trudge” into Google and you’ll get the following definition: “To walk slowly and with heavy steps, typically because of exhaustion or harsh conditions.” We might picture a man bent over under the weight of life’s burdens.
Yet the word does not connote failure. Someone who trudges has not been defeated; he has not given up. Rather, he is in the midst of the battle. Whatever enemy he may face, he has not yet raised the white flag of surrender. There may not be victory today or tomorrow, but this does not stop him from putting one foot in front of the other.
I was introduced to the idea of trudging this past summer while working at a St. Vincent de Paul shelter for men. One day I asked a counselor how he was, and he replied, “Just trudging.” Seeing I was bit perplexed, he told me to look around. “Every man here,” he said, “is trudging.” Homeless, poor, addicted: the world had turned against these men, and they against it, in so many ways, and yet they carried on. Maybe they weren’t turning their lives around as we would have them, but they weren’t finished yet, either. They were still trudging.
The quotation above comes from the Alcoholics Anonymous book, popularly referred to as “the Big Book.” For many of the shelter’s residents, this book was akin to the Bible. It was the first step in saving their lives. Indeed, it is no secret that, in many ways, the Big Book has its roots in, and was inspired by, the Good Book. And, while some may profit from AA’s program without explicitly turning to Christ, in reality there is no true, spiritual regeneration apart from Him. Long before AA or the Big Book was conceived, St. Vincent de Paul knew that a shelter, a soup kitchen, and a supportive community can only do so much. Without Christ, these are only way stations on a trudge that is ultimately dark, gloomy, and hopeless.
The Dominican Scripture scholar, Fr. Ceslaus Spicq, O.P. beautifully illustrates the idea of the trudge. He writes,
If someone is ruled by a great hope he longs for its fulfillment, and he sees his very existence as an exercise in patience and perseverance which will eventually allow his desire to be effectively realized. The biblical usage of “endurance” includes the idea of perseverance in adversity and difficulty. . . . [He] stands fast and knows how to suffer calmly, whatever the cost. [This labor] refers either to apostolic labor with all the fatigue and difficulties inherent in the ministry, or to the long and costly effort of the Christians to be morally faithful, especially during persecution.
The trudge only has purpose if seen in the light of Christ. If we do not open our hearts to the Lord, if we do not build an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, we might as well give up. Why? Because there is no other reason to go on. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” is no joke. Jesus is not someone we choose from among other contrived deities and try him out for a time. Without Jesus, without the one who created us, without true love, without grace, the pains and worries of life slow us down, and our trudge begins to turn into a shuffle until we trip over our own feet and cannot get back up.
To trudge: although initially it may seem depressing or gloomy, at its core this is a word of perseverance, a word of expectation. It is an action sustained in hope.
In the words of the Big Book, we can pray,
God, I offer myself to Thee—to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!
Image: William Gilbert Gaul, On the Way to the Summit (detail)