The Stories We Tell Ourselves . . . by Deborah Suess

Text John 14:8-12

My father’s name was Martin Suess.  And while I always loved my dad, it took some growing up on my part to fully appreciate him.

As a 12 year old, Daddy didn’t exactly match my image of the perfect strong All-American father — which in my mind was a cross between John F. Kennedy and Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise.

Instead, Dad was a tender-hearted, thoughtful and rather eccentric micro-biologist who promoted his back-to-nature philosophy by refusing to mow our front lawn in order to grow native prairie grasses; that is, until the neighbors wrote a strong letter of complaint which  totally and utterly embarrassed his youngest daughter.

Thankfully, I grew out of that embarrassment stage and learned to genuinely appreciate him — eccentricities and all.  After his death, I mentioned to my Aunt Vera that while I loved his tenderness, I wished I had seen more of his strength.  Vera replied she saw my father as a man of great strength and courage, and she shared a bit of story that my sisters and I had never heard before.

Background: In 1936, as a young Jewish teenager, my father escaped Hitler’s Germany and landed in Chicago.  When he turned 19, he was drafted by the U.S. Army. So Dad’s first return to his native country was as a non-combatant soldier and his primary job was to serve as a translator.

What I hadn’t known, was that one day when he was translating for an interrogator, Dad was asked to curse at and demean an innocent young German girl.  My father refused to translate that degrading message and as a result (among other things) he was demoted in rank.

That was integrity and courage.  And again helped me rewrite the story I told myself about my father.

Some of you know the work of Dr. Brené Brown, a social worker who has done research in the area of shame and vulnerability.  Her research suggests that it’s vitally important to be aware of the stories we tell ourselves.  She illustrates this by describing a time when she and her husband Steve decided to take a swim across a beautiful Texan lake one summer morning.

They are swimming together when halfway across the lake, Brené looks at her husband and is so grateful to be there with him in that moment. So while treading water, she decides to get vulnerable and says to Steve:

“Honey, I’m so glad I am with you and that we decided to do this swim together.”

Her husband replies: “Yep, water’s good,”

Brené feels hurt by his response but decides to make another bid for connection. A few minutes later she catches Steve and says:

“Steve, This is so great! Right now I feel so close to you.”

He answers: “Yep, water’s good,” and then swims away.

Now Brené is thinking: What’s going on? I don’t know if I’m supposed to feel humiliated or hostile.

By the time they arrive back at shore, she is furious but she takes a big breath and then tells him,  “I’m not sure why you kept blowing me off today. But the story I’m making up right now is that one of two things just happened,”

“Either you looked over at me and thought, ‘Yikes, she’s gotten old and doesn’t know how to really free-style swim anymore’.

“Or, you looked over at me and thought ‘Jeez man – she sure doesn’t rock a speedo like she did twenty years ago.”

Steve listened as she spoke. And then replied that he was not trying to be distant but during the whole swim he was focused on fighting off a panic attack. So much so that he had no idea what she even had said to him.

With some embarrassment he went on to explain that the night before, he dreamt that he and their kids were rafting on the lake when a speedboat came screaming toward them, and he had to pull the children into the water so they wouldn’t get killed by the raging vessel. As a result, all  he could do in the water that morning was count strokes and keep swimming to keep the panic attack at bay.  Steve had no idea what she had said to him.

Then it all made sense and Brené thanked him for speaking vulnerably. To which Steve replies, “Oh no — don’t start quoting your shame and vulnerability research to me.

Here’s what you really want: when the speedboat comes raging, you want the guy who takes all six kids and throws them onto the shore, woosh, woowsh, woosh.  And then swims so fast that he lands on the shore and catches them all. And then he looks across the lake and goes, Don’t worry, little lady, I’ve got this[Superhero Steve}

As Brené and Steve realized, they each were telling themselves a story. For her it was about body image, which so many of us struggle with. And for Steve it  was the need  to be a super hero.

Brené Brown concluded that it is vital for all of us to become aware of the stories we are telling ourselves.

Which brings me finally to the whole God thing. So — just as I had to mature in my understanding of who my father was, I have to also keep growing up in my understanding of the Divine.  Or to put it another way, I had to look (and keep on looking) at the stories I tell myself about God.

As a youngster it was really comforting (and probably age appropriate) to imagine God as a combination Santa Claus and Superman.  But (by age 16 or so) that story no longer worked for me, as I faced into the inevitable ups and downs of everyday life.

Indeed somewhere along the way, I began to let go of God as Santa/Superman, and instead decided to let Jesus introduce me to God — introduce me to the One whom he called Father.  I began to look for God as revealed in the person of Jesus.  For as Jesus said to his disciple Philip, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the father.

So the question I offer this morning is: Who or what do you see when you see Jesus? How does seeing in that manner impact your understanding of God and the story about God that you tell yourself?

For me, among other things, I see a prophet bravely speaking truth to power. I see a kind healer who is unafraid to touch those considered “untouchable”.  I see a man who is constantly ticking off religious leaders by asking hard questions.  And I see him lovingly shaking his head and trying again, when his disciples (including me) totally miss the point.

And I see in Jesus, One who kept speaking the truth, even when he knew it would lead to the cross.

So Friends, as we move into open worship, I invite you to consider:

  1. What happens when you see Jesus? Who or What do you see?
  2. How might seeing/knowing Jesus influence how you see and know God?
  3. And How does that seeing impact the stories you tell yourself and others??

My prayer on this Father’s Day is that we be reminded that God so loved the world that God gave us the beloved: Jesus, who in turn calls us to help write a new story of what it means to live out Love.  Here. Now. Today. Amen.


This message was given by Deborah Suess to Spokane Friends Meeting on Sunday, June 21, 2020, during Worship Service

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