• Jonathan Shuerger

Embracing the Suck: The Faith of the United States Marines (Spiritual)

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." -Hebrews 11:1

Everyone lives by faith; everyone just calls it something different. Good synonyms for the concept would be:

  • expectations

  • worldview

  • operating procedure

  • The Plan

Everyone believes that if they do things a certain way, they can expect a certain outcome. We derives concepts like justice and injustice from this belief. If I go to work for 40 hours this week at $14/hr., I can expect to be paid $560 for that week's labor. I can also expect the government to take a good chunk of that money, and promise me that things will get better. I will expect that not to happen.

See? That's how faith works.

Now, sometimes faith gets poisoned. Let's say you do the 40 hours of work, but then you get a letter from the company saying that because you didn't wear the company logo, which they didn't provide you or inform you of, you have forfeited your paycheck for the week. Now we have anger, because of a sense of injured justice resulting from disappointed expectations.

Why? Because you worked those hours in good faith, expecting to be compensated for your labor.

This happens often with marriage, as well. Very few people tie the knot with the expectation that things are not going to work out. If you are, and you just want to throw half of your money away for no good reason, I can save you legal fees and heartache if you just donate the cash to me. I have a Patreon. Go there.

But you get married, then things start going south, because the economy, the President, kids, work and various other atmospheric stressors. After a while, you start thinking that your expectations of your marriage have not been satisfied.

Things were supposed to be different.

Marriages start to tank and employees lose motivation when their faith is not rewarded.

I would like to present a different approach to faith, one that I learned in my five years of glorious service in the United States Marine Corps.

Embrace the Suck.

This is a concept beaten into every Marine I ever met.

Life sucked. I knew that; I'd joined the Marines. If I'd joined the Air Force, maybe I could have had some expectation of comfort and marginally humane treatment, but I didn't. I called the recruiter myself, told him I wanted to enlist in the Marines and to start doing my paperwork.

My first PT (Physical Training) session with the DEP (Delayed Enlistment Program) met every expectation 26-year-old me had. After work ended for the day, I ran nearly four miles to get to the recruiting office, where the Marine sergeant, naturally, took us out for another run.

We ran a mile or so to a parking garage, where we sprinted up the ramps until we reached the ramp to the top level. There, we did side crawling push-ups until we reached the top of the ramp. We averaged about two feet of movement per push-up. Take a look at a parking garage ramp next time you're in one; you'll get an idea of how long it took us to complete the exercise.

At the time, I think it was the hardest thing I'd ever done.

We did a bunch of abs at the top and ran back to the recruiting office. Here's the thing: for the two hours it took us, the sergeant had a grin on his face the whole time. He was barking cadences, shouting insults at us and laughing every time his arms gave out and he hit the pavement. He was having a blast.

Turns out he was infantry, only supposed to take us out for a light run, and way overdue. The staff sergeant met us at the station, dismissed us, then jerked the sergeant into the station to chew him out. As I turned back onto the street, drenched in sweat, my arms shaking, my legs dead, dreading my four-mile jog home, I started reflecting.

How did I do that?

Well, because that's what Marines do. I walked into that workout expecting to get destroyed. I had every expectation of failing to meet the standard the Marine had for me.

Marines have a fierce pride in our ability to weather hardship. We do not get posted to happy places. We get posted to places with enemies. Lately, those have been desert places with bombs hidden under trash. Before that, it was jungle places with poop spears. Before that, island jungle places against guys trained to die before surrendering.

So we expect this stuff. We find out we have to stand 24-hour duty after finishing a nine-mile hike, we say, "Marine Corps." Because that's what the Marine Corps is like. You get to hike out to your site, carrying 70 pounds of gear, then dig the hole you're not going to get to sleep in that night.

You're going to buy your plane ticket without getting your leave approved first, because Admin's going to wait until the day before your leave starts to approve it. And you're going to get a refundable ticket because some 1st Sgt. is going to see that you haven't attended your "Don't Rape People" seminar yet because you've been working 14 hours overnight shifts in a windowless box.

Marine Corps.

We expect life to suck, and we're never disappointed when it does.

But we get some pretty incredible stuff done. In my job field, a Marine linguist does the job of ten soldiers. In the start of Operation Inherent Resolve, there were three Arab linguists in the SCIF. Me, an Afghanistan vet, and an idiot who heard bomb every other word. We ran the Marine Corps side of Signals Intelligence in Iraq for months before getting other linguists in.

We always ran the watch floor with minimum manning: two linguists, one analyst. We went through thousands of enemy transmissions every shift. Me and the idiot worked forty-five days straight through Christmas to provide support to our guys in Iraq. We expected to do it, because it needed to be done.

We were expected to do it, because we're Marines, and that's what we do.

Here's my point.

I was not disappointed much. We could be out of water, eating dog scraps and digging our own poop holes (because our green staff sergeant forgot to get port-a-johns delivered to our teamsite), but that was all expected. It's part of the job.

Life is not fair, and then you die.

I can remember few times when I've laughed harder than when I was kicked back in 29 Palms in July, hearing a story about how one of our guys at another teamsite took a sand bath with sand from our latrine area (the above-mentioned poop holes) when we were there a couple months prior.

I've debated the merits of minor Star Wars characters for days, sometimes devolving into shouting matches that we would resume on our next shift. "Look, does Kylo control time or light itself or what, because all those things are pretty incredible, and none of them explain how he got his tender tush kicked by the Trash Guardian..."

Look, life's hard. The Christian life is hard. Jesus didn't promise you a rose garden; He promised you a war.

Quit whining, grab your gear, and embrace the suck.

Marine Corps.