Establishing priorities and balance in the military life is not only challenging, but requires an entire lifetime of effort and commitment. There are no shortcuts, especially when we are planning to deploy. Until the day we die, we will consistently need to reevaluate our walk and make adjustments to meet changing situations. This dynamic is only intensified when we have to think through all the logistics of a “down range” deployment situation. As the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said, “You cannot step into the same river twice.” So when thinking about how to navigate the issues of deployment with our personal development and family responsibilities, it comes down to setting the right priorities and finding the right balance in life.
Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ (Matthew 22:37–39, NKJV).
Let me relate a true story that illustrates how difficult, but essential, right priorities and balance are in this life. Upon my return of my first deployment from Vietnam in the summer of 1972, I was assigned back to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Within a week of my reporting to Fort Bragg, I met a Special Forces Captain at the Officer’s Club tennis courts. We hit it off well and soon became good friends. At that point, he was a Christian and I was not.
The Process of Life
Almost a year later, I moved from Fort Bragg. A lot had happened during the past few months. I met Judy, the love of my life, and married her nine months later. I committed my life to Jesus Christ during premarital counseling. Finally, I made a decision to explore opportunities in the civilian world and decided to resign my commission. Judy and I headed to Kingsport, Tennessee. She would teach high school. I would begin personnel work with a large motor freight carrier.
I continued to stay in touch with my friend, and on occasion would visit him in Fayetteville, North Carolina, when we traveled back to see Judy’s parents. With each passing month, his life seemed to get more aimless, if not chaotic. He hadn’t found steady employment and his marriage was slipping away. He and his wife decided to separate. Within a couple of years, they were divorced. His wife remarried soon thereafter. At about that same time, Judy and I moved back to Fort Bragg. I had reapplied for active duty and was accepted. During our two years in Tennessee, we had made a concerted effort to grow in our Christian walk. Judy had taken the lead, and in my view had somehow gotten on the fast track. I was growing in my faith as well, though not as rapidly.
I mention this because both of us had grown in our knowledge and relationship with the Lord. We now know a bit more about Christian maturity and the obedience required for growth to occur. With the increased wisdom and discernment God had supplied, my friend’s plight seemed to be much less mysterious. It seemed very apparent to both of us that he had failed to set proper priorities and had practically no balance whatsoever. While he had been a Christian much longer than either of us, he was not practicing his faith with consistency or effectiveness. So, as I have worked with so many military families and the challenges they face with deployment and reintegration, our personal story and experience has taught us several things that bring God’s perfect balance to navigate these challenges.
Love God First
Our fast-paced world offers many alternatives to living the Christian life. Not surprisingly, many are quite attractive and require little sacrifice or discipline. Whether one chooses money, fame, popularity, or pleasure, there is always plenty of company in the form of others who have chosen the same path. And for short sprints, people in each of these pursuits might appear to have found the happiness, satisfaction, material gains, and pleasure they were seeking. Sooner or later, however, they inevitably come up with the same conclusion that King Solomon found: “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done, And on the labor in which I had toiled; And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun,” (Ecclesiastes 2:11, NKJV).
With regard to the subject of setting priorities and achieving balance, and navigating the unique military challenges like deployment, let me pass along a few “lessons learned” from our experiences. We do this humbly, as two beggars telling other beggars where we found bread. Not surprisingly, we must start with Scripture. From Genesis to Revelation, God shows himself to be a God of order and balance. He has set priorities for the entire universe and maintains incredible balance with all He has created.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Matthew 22 contains a fascinating encounter between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day that produced amazing wisdom and counsel about priorities. Though the Sadducees and Pharisees were simply looking for a way to kill Jesus, they did ask a great question: “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” In their spiritual pride and arrogance, they had already supplemented the original Ten Commandments with over 600 commandments of their own. So I feel certain they were most interested to hear Rabbi Jesus’ response. He didn’t disappoint them. Once again, He answered with wisdom that could not be refuted: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Priorities for the Christian life begin with these two commands: love God and love others.
Everything else hangs on our obedience to these directives from our Lord. In a practical sense, we need to order our lives with these two commandments in mind. While there are many other facets to living the Christian life, God doesn’t want us to be overwhelmed by complexity as we follow Him. It’s not easy, but it is very straightforward: love God and love others. If we can integrate these motives into all that we are, all that we know, and all that we do, I believe we’ll be moving in the direction our Lord desires. We hasten to add that getting on track and remaining on course will necessitate many IPRs (in process reviews). In other words, on a daily basis we will need to vet our thoughts, our words, and our actions to see if we are following our Commander’s intent. Reading God’s Word, prayer, and godly counsel are integral to this process.
Reading God’s Word, prayer, and godly counsel are integral to this process.
Balance in Life and strength through deployment are impossible without this spiritual focus!
With this groundwork laid, we recommend that you do some research on your own to find good books that address the subjects of setting priorities and maintaining balance. There are many outstanding Christian leaders who have made wonderful contributions in this area. Judy and I do not pretend to have “broken the code,” but will close this article with some observations we’ve made throughout our years in the military life: Work can swallow you and keep you out of balance. The profession of arms is a noble calling and is well-supported by Scripture. American society, as fickle as it can be sometimes, recognizes the need for a strong military and honors those who are called to serve.
That said, working 24/7 in support of our nation doesn’t represent godly priorities, and certainly not balance. Of course there will be times when a 24/7 approach to work is appropriate, usually in a deployment posture and always in a combat zone. But even there, there is a need for some balance in order to be effective. Bottom line: seek God, listen to your spouse and family, and get godly counsel in an effort to keep work in its proper perspective. We don’t have to tell you. This is certainly doable, but not easy.
You must choose what they are in your life.
Identify the glass balls in life and don’t let them drop. You must choose what they are in your life, but let us suggest that they include the following: your spiritual life, your physical and emotional health, your family, and your friends. A former CEO for Coca Cola passed along some sage advice along these lines: “You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls — family, health, friends and spirit — are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same.” Live your life, not someone else’s.
Live In and Enjoy the Present
This is especially difficult while deployed. We have noticed a lot of wonderful folks who pattern their lives after what other’s think they should do. We can learn from others, but it is not wise to spend too much time comparing our lives to those of others. God has created each of us as unique human beings. We like how Dr. Billy Graham put it: “If God created each one of us to be unique, why do we stoop to be someone else?” Take time to smell the roses. The 21st century is an awesome time to be alive. But the pace of life can kill us if we are not careful. Think about this: even if we win the rat race of life, we are still rats! So take some time to enjoy the PRESENT. Not the past and not the future. We learn from the past and prepare for the future. But we live in the present. Take some time to enjoy life. Take your family on a vacation, or at least on a short get-away. Once in a while, leave work early and just do something you enjoy.
Note: For you workaholic’s who may be reading this, I confess that “smelling the roses” has been a struggle for me. In the past couple of years I have taken up golf. You’ll never see me playing on television, but the Lord has used it to help me relax. I have found that in order to hit that little white ball I must focus. Everything else fades into the background. Before I realize it, I’m relaxing and enjoying life. And God has assured me, “Scott, that’s perfectly okay!” Golf may not the solution for you, but you get the point. “Smell the roses!” Again, more difficult while deployed, but sill important, none the less.
God’s got your back!
Keep your perspective: God’s got your back! Do I have to tell you that life can be really hard? Do I have to remind you that during a deployment experience, it’s even harder? It’s easy for the best of us to lose perspective. Consider Elijah, an Old Testament prophet. In 1 Kings 19, we read about a time when this man of God lost his perspective. Let’s pick up the action with a conversation the Lord had with Elijah (1 Kings 19:13–18): God: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah: “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
God: “Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” Elijah had lost his perspective and was pouring out his heart to God. God understood perfectly, but didn’t choose to wave a magic wand and make it all okay for Elijah. In effect, the Lord told Elijah that he wasn’t the only one still standing for the Lord. There were seven thousand others in Israel who had not bowed their knee to a false god. The Lord simply told Elijah to go back to work, and Elijah obeyed. Elijah’s perspective had been restored.
Lost your perspective? Talk to the Lord. The temptation is to put off taking the first step. We recommend you don’t delay. Start by making a quick assessment of your life. Pick one or two things you want to change — no more than that. As you get started and meet with little successes, you will be surprised at how quickly you can get on the path to right priorities with balance in your life. You can do this, and the Lord will help you! And by the way, don’t just do this before and during your deployment, but do it consistently when you get home.