The Ministry of "That Sucks"
“It’s the friends you can call up at 4am that matter.”
My dear friend Mary Jo is one of my “4am friends”. We’ve known one another since high school. We’ve been companions in big hair, shoulder pads, secrets, stories, heartbreak, and victories. I love our history together.
When one of us is having a hard day, Mary Jo and I have a long-standing tradition. One will call the other and say, “Will you please just tell me how terrible my life is right now?” She will then launch into all of her woes, listing every gloriously awful circumstance, not letting even the smallest detail be ignored. The person on the other end of the line will contribute the appropriate amount of “oohs and ahhs” along the way. At the end of the story, the listener responds with two simple words: “That SUCKS.” And the other person will answer with a relieved and grateful “Thank you!” And they mean it.
It’s amazing how healing those two words can be. I don’t think we use them often enough.
When someone you love is going through a hard time, it’s natural to want to help them. When they feel pain, you do too. It’s awful to feel that powerless, so sometimes we're tempted to rely on the quickest remedy we can think of: solutions and suggestions.
We'll remind our hurting friend of the positive aspects of life. We'll offer ideas and solutions. We provide prayers and Scripture. We just want them to feel better; and we want to feel better too. So we'll talk, suggest, and fix.
When a friend is hurting and has lost perspective, they need to hear the truth. They need wisdom, support, and experience. But in the desire to make a friend feel better, we can speed toward solutions so quickly that we ignore the gift of commiseration.
Proverbs 25:20 says, “Singing cheerful songs to a person with a heavy heart is like taking someone’s coat in cold weather or pouring vinegar in a wound.” (NLT) In other words, when we hurry to cheer someone up, we could inadvertently add to the hurt. There are times when “That Sucks” is more of a ministry than any sound advice.
I realize it’s not a polite expression. It’s kind of crass – like the words “stupid” or "shut up." When my kids were little, “that sucks” was not something we said in our home. It’s not sophisticated or refined. And it’s downright alarming when your four-year-old says it out loud in the grocery store for all people to hear and judge your unfitness as a mother.
But sometimes things do suck. And that needs to be acknowledged. If we remain polite and polished in response to the messy aspects of life, we minimize the frustration of our limited, stumbling humanity. We miss the chance to be honest about disappointment and sadness. Sharing bible verses, ideas, or words of encouragement are important and effective when offered with genuine care. But if they are offered too soon, we lose the opportunity to simply be present with someone in their pain.
Mary Jo and I have grown up together. I like to think we’ve amassed a bit of wisdom and perspective over the years. But in those "4 am" moments, we don’t need a lot of sophisticated words or ideas. We just need someone to listen.
Compassion doesn't need to be complicated. Comfort does not require lofty answers or awesome solutions or big words. There are times when “That Sucks” is the best thing we can say to someone who is hurting. Those two words can be the truest form of ministry. And sometimes, when it’s been a hard day or week or year, it’s really all we need to hear.