I tend not to like vignette-style books. I never did like The House on Mango Street, critical acclaim and racially diverse protagonist notwithstanding. I do, however, enjoy stories of young adults living the Catholic life with joy, not bitterness. It’s refreshing, and it’s my reality. With a lighthearted approach in mind, I read Operating on Faith: A Painfully True Love Story, by Matt Weber, and found much mirth infused by reverence.
As I said, this book is a memoir told by way of vignettes through Weber’s first few years of marriage. I knew that the “for better or for worse” of Matt and Nell’s early marriage would come into play, but I still wanted a cohesive character journey to follow. Even with scattered scenes, I like to have the feeling that there is a running theme to a story, a particular meaning. In the author’s own words, the major takeaway is that we should “find the meaning.” I struggled with that. Weber definitely encourages his readers to find meaning in their suffering (physical and spiritual), but he has one critical factor that not everyone does: a loving wife.
Weber is obviously a man who is deeply in love with his wife. Nell plays an integral role in his spiritual life and his physical recovery. (Spoiler alert: It’s more than just the literal busted gut.) It makes me wish I had someone like that to be with me through obvious sickness and health, clearly better moments and worse ones. Their love is a testament to the value of faith and commitment in surviving difficulties, particularly the early ones that trigger an “I didn’t sign up for this” response. It’s a reminder that we experience the love of God through the Christlike love of people in our lives.
That love is baked into every single moment of our courtship, our marriage, and this book.
The former marriage prep minister in me won’t let me forget to note one canonically muddled passage. Before Matt and Nell’s wedding, their priest told them that he “didn’t even really need to be there for the sacramental part; that the marriage was between [the spouses] and God.” Yes and no. Spouses do administer the sacrament to one another, but you can’t just go stand in the church with your snuggle bunny and two witnesses, exchange vows, and call it a wedding day. Not having an official representative of the church violates canonical form. So the priest (or deacon, or in extreme/rural cases, a designated layperson) does need to “be there,” and within earshot, and hear appropriate vows. And if both spouses are baptized, that’s what makes it a sacrament.
Aside from the love story, another thing this book has going for it is humor. Weber is definitely a funny guy, terrible pun after terrible pun. If you like wordplay, you will like this book. Well, with one caution.
As is made clear in the publicity blurb, this is a book with lots of detailed references to bodily functions. They’re critical to the story, not gratuitous, but things get kind of gross. If that makes you squeamish, you should probably steer clear, because Weber doesn’t hold back. Personally, I found the chapter about the owl much more horrifying than the stomach surgery. Thinking about it as I write this review is freaking me out a little bit. I’m glad it helped him understand the transformation in his spiritual life. That aspect was kind of pretty. I still reserve the right to be unsettled by it.
Scattered among much more hilarious moments are Weber’s genuine crisis of faith (probably one of the simplest and most heartfelt I’ve ever read) and the resolution. Both come to him in the hospital. That seems appropriate. A place that is usually filled with so much pain (physical, mental, and emotional) can also be a place of joy (such as in any room a baby enters life on the outside). He has some perspectives I’ve never considered before, reminding me of the beautiful diversity of spirituality within the Church. Ultimately, he finds his peace in the simple, quiet moments of life:
The basic and the ordinary, the non-bookworthy minutiae of a typical day is now the extraordinary that I seek in life. It is what I hold sacred and dear, and it flows in the marrow of my bones. It is not sexy or spectacular, but deserves some love just for its simplicity and peace.
This book is funny, it’s short, and it’s honest. There is no fluff here, just heartfelt storytelling from a man who loves God through trial and triumph. Dip into Operating on Faith, laugh, and love God.
I received a free copy of Operating on Faith: A Painfully True Love Story from Loyola Press in exchange for my honest review. Many thanks for their generosity!