The Importance of Agony

My sister and I were agreeing the other day that March — which supposedly comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb — continues to be one of those trying periods of every year. Because Lent always falls during this time, I half joked that all of Lent can feel like the Agony in the Garden. And then this morning she sent me an excellent article on this topic, and I started to make sense of the happenings of this past week.

Let me start with a definition, of course:

“The word agony is not just a pious term from the Rosary or other traditions; it’s a term from Scripture. In Greek they talk about Christ’s agonia. We know what agony means in English, but in Greek, at the time of Jesus, it was also a technical term for what athletes did warming up for the Olympic Games. During that warm-up, the Greek athletes would produce a certain sweat which would warm up their muscles and ready them for coming combat. That sweat, that lather, was called their agonia.

Luke is telling us that Jesus does an agonia to get ready for his passion. In essence, Luke is saying, we don’t move from being self-pampering to dying on a cross without some preparation. The Agony in the Garden is the warm-up, the readying, the agonia for the Passion that follows.”

As an athlete, this speaks to me. I don’t walk into the gym, start putting weights on the bar, and attempt my max back squat before I’ve even taken off my sweatpants. Agonia = warm-up. Check.

It goes on:

“Remember the old translation of the Our Father? In place of “and lead us not into temptation,” we used to say, “and do not put us to the test.” What is the test? We’re telling God something like, “God, in my life I know you can test me the way you tested Jesus. I know you can make me sweat blood, but cut me a little slack. Make these things a little easier for me in my life so I don’t have to taste that complete darkness.” See, though, that darkness is the test of the moral athlete, inside of our moral loneliness. It’s not the test of our physical capacity to withstand pain.

…The Passion is not about the blood and the ropes and the whipping and how much Jesus endured. It’s about something we’re meant to imitate. It’s about our moral and emotional athleticism the next time we have temptation. It’s about the test inside of love, and it happens in a garden.”

Again with this idea of athleticism… elite athletes fuel themselves well and train accordingly in order to push themselves to a physical limit and beyond. So for me this begs the question of how might I be fueling my moral and emotional strength to prepare myself for great tests. Part of that is certainly in how I take care of myself physically (healthy body, healthy mind) but also in the people I allow to be close to me and become my models. If I want to be morally and emotionally strong, then I have to surround myself with others who are also trying to “train” in the same way, or who are already strong in that way. Thankfully, I am privileged to have these relationships in my life.

What I think is incredible, as I have written previously, is that once we move through agonia to acceptance of whatever hard test we face, in the end we get to the light. Even when it seems like the light will never return or is going to take its sweet time, it does. So even while this past week has been difficult in its own way, the only path to the other side is through. Watch me pump my emotional muscles.

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