In the military, commanding officers are known to use a particular phrase of “encouragement” when things get tough: embrace the suck. And as abrasive a statement it may be, it’s actually a wise motto to live by.
Embracing the suck can be defined as consciously choosing to accept the unavoidable unpleasantness of a situation that’s required to make forward progress.
I was first introduced to the phrase when my CrossFit coach yelled it at me. I was standing there just staring at my barbell in the middle of a workout, and he could tell from the look on my face that I clearly didn’t want to lift it anymore. I was tired, sweaty, and the workout wasn’t even close to being over.
So he walked over to me and said, “Come on, Dale. You just gotta embrace the suck.”
And what’s amazing is that it actually worked. There’s something about surrendering to the reality of difficulty that grants you the ability to endure it. And as helpful as it was in that relatively inconsequential moment in the middle of a workout, it’s even more helpful when you have this mentality about the difficulties of life at large.
From a global pandemic to racial unrest, economic catastrophe, murder hornets, and a bitter election cycle, 2020 really has been a year for the history books. And definitely not in a good way. At many points, it has been downright unpleasant.
But that just means that we have an opportunity to consciously accept the present adversity, in order that we might grow into greater maturity than we previously thought possible.
Here are 4 ways to embrace the suck of 2020.
1. See every challenge as an opportunity for God to grow you.
Jesus never promised that the life of faith would be easy. In fact, he promised the exact opposite. In John 16:33, he told his disciples, “In this world you will have troubles.” Not exactly a divine promise you want printed on coffee mugs and t-shirts. But this statement of difficult reality was accompanied by this encouragement: “Take heart! I have overcome the world.”
If this year has taught us anything, it’s that we will all experience troubles in this life. And when it rains, sometimes it pours. But none of this is meaningless. In his first letter to the churches, the apostle Peter tells us that our trials actually serve the purpose of purifying our faith. So difficulty is actually always accompanied by a cause for joy.
This isn’t always easy to see in moments of pain and hardship. But here’s what Peter says.
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
Without fire, gold can never be purified to its most valuable state. And without trials, you cannot become the person that Jesus always intended you to be. When you hold this truth in the front of your mind, you find purpose in your pain. You learn never to waste a crisis.
2. Revel in your weaknesses, because they show God’s strength.
The apostle Paul was someone who learned to embrace his weakness. In 2 Corinthians, he describes an affliction that he calls a thorn in his flesh. It was some kind of chronic physical ailment that slowed him down. It made him unable to accomplish everything he wanted to do. It caused him great pain.
So Paul asked for God to take it away, and you’d think that God would be eager to fulfill his request. After all, if Paul was free of this ailment, he’d be able to be more effective in his mission to preach the gospel.
But God gives Paul an unexpected response. This is how Paul describes it.
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
(2 Corinthians 12:8-10, emphasis added)
Your weaknesses have an important lesson to teach you: your God is strong. Hardship is not hindering you. It’s actually the means by which you’re learning to draw on the strength of Jesus. So learn to embrace your weaknesses, your challenges, and your afflictions.
It will take time for you to fully embrace your weaknesses. It certainly did for Paul. He earnestly asked God to take his afflictions away on three separate occasions. But in the process, he learned that his weakness was intentionally put there to show him the strength of Jesus who would empower him. May you learn the same.
Your weaknesses have an important lesson to teach you: your God is strong. Hardship is not hindering you. It's actually the means by which you're learning to draw on the strength of Jesus. Click To Tweet
3. Stop avoiding your challenges.
If you’re anything like me, you have a tendency to avoid and ignore the problems in your life for as long as humanly possible. But denying the existence of a problem never makes it any better. In fact, ignoring it causes you to experience more anxiety, because it’s still sitting there in the back of your mind, tormenting you.
It’s not enough to simply recognize that a situation is unpleasant. You need to also choose to move toward it rather than away from it. Our natural tendency is to back off whenever we feel pain. But the only way forward is through your pain.
So embrace the unpleasant moments that are a natural part of the process of moving forward. That might mean having a difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding. It may mean stopping long enough to actually grieve a loss. It may simply look like admitting that a situation is harder for you than you previously let yourself realize. But whatever that next step is, as unpleasant as it may be, move toward it rather than backing away.
And if you’re really scared to do that, I offer you this encouragement from the words of David in Psalm 31.
“Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the Lord.”
Your hope in Jesus has not been misplaced. So lean into him and move toward your challenges rather than avoiding them.
4. Create a 2020 thankfulness list.
While this year has been unpleasant for numerous reasons, God is likely moving in ways that you couldn’t have predicted. Even in the midst of chaos, it’s likely that you’ve had joyful moments that are getting overshadowed. And that’s because we tend to focus on the negative.
But part of experiencing the peace of Christ is learning to always be thankful. This is what Paul says in his letter to the Colossians.
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15, emphasis added)
So I encourage you to sit down and make a list of all of the good things that God has done in your life in 2020. You might be surprised at how many instances of blessing there are.
As I made my list, it included blessings like these:
- An unexpected opportunity to write a book that will come out later this year
- Moving into a new home
- My son learning to crawl, and then walk, in quarantine
- My wife getting pregnant with our second child
And I could list many more. Making a list like this goes a long way in reframing the difficulties of this season. While this year hasn’t been without its challenges and painful moments, there has also been a lot of blessing that you should relish in.
Life is a mixed bag. While you might want to see who you can talk to about getting a refund on the year 2020, consider whether you’d also be willing to give up all the blessings you’ve received this year. Bearing that in mind will go a long way in helping you embrace everything that’s happened so far this year, whether for better or for worse.
Developing endurance requires discomfort.
Spiritual endurance is one of the most important qualities you can have. The life of faith isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. And we can’t reach the finish line without constantly relying on Jesus.
That’s why the author of Hebrews says this.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”
Though the road is often difficult, the God who created you is forming you into everything you were meant to be. So just keep taking the next right step you know to take. Embrace the suck, and know that God is turning it into something beautiful.