Embrace the Suck (Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

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A couple of years ago, one of my pastor friends suffered a horribly tragic event.  She returned home to find that her husband had taken his life.  It’s very probable that her husband suffered from undiagnosed depression, but there were no signs that anybody could see.  And that added to the shock and the pain of the whole situation.

And over the next few months, as she worked through the grief and the tragedy, she adopted a motto which she frequently posted on Facebook: “Embrace the suck!”

“Embrace the suck.”  We all kind of understood what she meant by that.  But as the months rolled along, and we watched what she did and read how she explained that motto, it was clear that “Embrace the suck” didn’t mean “Love the suck”, “Enjoy the suck” or “Wallow in the suck.” Instead, it meant fully and deeply accept that this is the way life is, even though it sucks. 

And for my friend, and for many others, that’s actually an important thing to do. And that’s because, perhaps counter-intuitively, it’s often only by “embracing the suck” that you can begin to see the possibility of new life beyond the suck, even though that life will be different than you used to imagine.  It’s only by embracing the suck that you can accept that things won’t go back to the way they used to be, so that you can see other possibilities that you hadn’t even imagined before.  And it’s often only by embracing the suck that you can start to live into those new possibilities.

But all of those things are really hard to do, especially when you have to “embrace the suck” suddenly and quickly.

And I thought about my friend as I was studying this Sunday’s gospel reading, because Jesus tells a story about a guy who has to suddenly and unexpectedly “embrace the suck.”

Now to be sure, as parables go, this is a weird one!  The guy in the story is a financial manager accused of cooking the books.  And so he gets fired.  But instead of being promptly walked out of the office and having his passwords changed, he has a little bit of time.

And so he uses that time to, frankly, justify the boss’s concern!  He cooks the books some more!  And yet, at the end of the story, the boss commends the guy for being “shrewd.”

Why?  Is the boss happy about having lost even more money?

Well, it’s not a real story, but a story that Jesus makes up to make a point.  And his point is that this financial manager knows how to “embrace the suck.”  That’s really a pretty good definition of what the Greek word translated as “shrewd” means.

This manager “embraces the suck” by accepting that life has changed in a really bad way for him.  He doesn’t waste time with denial or bargaining.  Instead, he knows that life is never going to go back to the way it was.  And that allows him to see possibilities he hadn’t even considered before (even if, in this case, they were probably illegal opportunities!)  And since he knows he doesn’t have time to delay, he immediately starts to do those new things.

So why does Jesus tell us this parable?  It’s certainly not because he wants us to cook the books of the people we work for, or to do dishonest things.

But Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem.  And things are about to get really sucky really fast.  And even though many of the people following Jesus thought this would all be just sweetness and light, it wasn’t going to be.  Sometimes following Jesus would be hard, because sometimes following faithfully leads you into hard and painful situations.  And sometimes, life is just hard and painful, and following Jesus doesn’t insulate you from that.

And so in some ways, Jesus is saying, “Look, you know how even dishonest and unfaithful people can embrace the suck when they have to.  You should be even more prepared to do the same.”

But even when I know I have to, I still don’t want to embrace the suck in my life.  You probably don’t either.  And if we need encouragement to do so, we probably just need a good psychologist.  We don’t really need Jesus for that.  

So I want to ask Jesus, “why are you really telling me this?”  If I’m going to have to embrace the suck anyway, what difference are you making in my life?

And maybe the difference is this.  At least for me, embracing the suck becomes more possible in my life when I have reason to be confident that:

  • There really is life beyond the suck, both for me and for others; Jesus is leading his disciples to the cross, but it doesn’t end there.  And life beyond the suck isn’t just for sometime in heaven. Instead, it’s the confidence that God really does have new life prepared for me and for you next week, and next month and next year.  And that life is full of promise and hope, even if it isn’t how I imagined it would be … (the first disciples found new life after Jesus’ death and resurrection, in this world, not just the world to come; and Jesus wants us to expect the same…)
  • There are new possibilities God is placing before me, even if I can’t see them right at the moment.  Or, maybe more to the point, when I’m willing to open my eyes to opportunities and possibilities that were there all along, but I didn’t notice them because I kept hoping things would get back to the way they were… (sometimes the opportunities to live in new ways were always in front of the first disciples, but they ignored them when they thought they could just keep following Jesus around in the same old ways…)
  • I don’t have to walk into the future by myself.  Jesus’ first disciples figured out that somehow he was always with them, even if they couldn’t see him in front of them the way they used to.  And that gave them strength and courage to move into new way of living.  And sometimes for me, just knowing that somehow Jesus is walking with me through the mess gives me the confidence to try… (even if I pretty much never act as fast as the guy in the parable!)

Following Jesus doesn’t exempt us from pain and tragedy.  It doesn’t make our lives easier.  And it’s not a great big asprin for those times when we just gotta embrace the suck.

But following Jesus does ground us in the transcendent reality of God’s love and presence, which promises us that the suck is not the end for us, for those we love, or for the world around us.

Jesus promises us that there is hope and new life for us, both in this world and in the world to come.  Jesus promises us that God is always placing new ways forward in front of us, even when they mean living differently than we imagined before.  And Jesus promises to walk with us in those new ways.

And those are the things that matter, and which can give us courage and strength, when we need to embrace the suck.