Tonka! As a kid, one of my favorite toys was a Tonka dump truck. It was heavy duty, bright yellow, and had remarkable likeness to real dump trucks. It was practically indestructible (just ask my St. Bernard), could collect lots of stuff, haul that stuff, and then dump that stuff anywhere. I loved my dump truck, but I also realized it’s a great metaphor for returning deployers.
When military members return from deployment, they come loaded with stuff and lots of it. This stuff is more than gear and equipment. It’s also loads of emotional, psychological, and spiritual experiences. The spouse or family member who stayed home also has his or her own loads. The natural tendency for both is to dump the load on each other as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, that leads to relationship problems. How can we deal with these heavy loads without causing great damage? Paul provides solutions in Galatians, chapter 6.
He first addresses the importance of restoring broken relationships. “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1)
Deployments include times where we have blown it (messed up, made mistakes, and sinned). We often fail to see these problems right away and then absent-mindedly dump our junk on those closest to us. Surprisingly, Paul wants the offended and wounded person to take the first step in restoration! This nearly impossible task of putting our feelings aside can only be accomplished when our attitude is gentle and humble, remembering we have also been the offender at times.
Deployments also include times when we have too much stress to handle alone. Paul says we are to help others by carrying their loads. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). There are issues of life that can wear people out. When we carry another person’s load, we are following the example of Christ because He certainly carries our load!
Paul also wants to ensure we carry our own load when we can (verse 5). This is the stuff we don’t like to do but is nonetheless our responsibility. We need to make an honest effort to do what we can.
Returning from a deployment provides an opportunity to practice these principles in the following ways. First, be willing to listen to your spouse or family member. Let them go first in conversations and don’t worry about your turn. God will provide you with an opportunity to lighten your load, and when you come to Him, He promises to give you times of rest and refreshment (Matthew 11:28-30).
Second, ask God for the strength to carry extra burdens. God will not burden you with more than He thinks you can carry. We tend to give up too easy, but God knows we can often carry more than we realize, especially when we recognize we have God’s strength to manage the load (Ephesians 3:16).
Third, find the right place and time to dump your load. That comes through spending a consistent time reading, reflecting, and talking to God about our world and His Word. He promises when we cast our burdens upon Him, He will sustain us (Psalm 55:22) because He “daily bears our burden” (Psalm 68:19). It also comes by talking to a chaplain, pastor, or trusted friend. Letting that person know your thoughts, feelings, and struggles.
There is a better way than dumping and running. God has a plan and place to take your load. Come to Him today.