Experience has proven that most warriors score higher on their branch’s Physical Fitness Test when they prepare a training plan and follow it.
This applies to our spiritual health as well. Just as you need a plan to stay in peak physical condition, you need a plan to keep your spirit healthy and growing in fellowship with God. Certainly, during training and on deployment, physical fitness is important; but throughout life, it is even more critical that you prioritize your spiritual health. Here are fundamentals to keep in mind as you maintain your spiritual fitness during each stage of your deployment.
Before You Go
- Pray regularly. Prayer is the foundation for every other step you will take to guard your spiritual health. And it is a wonderful antidote to the normal stresses you encounter as deployment approaches. Even after several deployments, each new assignment creates new issues and new challenges. But stress is never a surprise to God. He knows your concerns before you speak them aloud, so you can take every care to Him with confidence. God promises to direct your path and give you peace of mind when you present your concerns to Him.
- Take care of practical matters. “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, NKJV). With a foundation of prayer, you can wisely prepare your loved ones for the realities of deployment: American Red Cross information, paying bills, vehicle maintenance, powers of attorney, wills, etc. Preparation demonstrates wisdom, not a lack of faith. See your chain of command or chaplain for checklists to help you get ready. Assure your loved ones you will hold them in prayer, even as you invite them to support you spiritually.
- Establish simple goals for your spiritual care plan. This does not need to be elaborate. But planning ahead to pray and to spend time in God’s Word will help you to remain focused on your spiritual life and will help you to remain spiritually nourished. If possible, invite a fellow warrior to join you during these times.
While You’re Gone
- Anticipate higher levels of adrenaline and alertness, and respond with faith. Accept the normal reflexive responses of your body and emotions as a healthy means of defense for a person in or near danger. God created you so that your body would help you survive dangerous situations. When these reactions go “off the charts,” seek out the counsel of a chaplain and the prayer support of other warriors of faith.
- Maintain and monitor your spiritual care plan. Fellowship with other believers, even one-on-one, is very helpful in keeping your faith strong. Seek out worship services, even if they differ from your own church background. Memorize a Scripture or song; then you can bring those encouraging resources to mind when you have a break or when you’re resting. Just a few minutes of mentally rehearsing such material goes a long way toward better sleep and resiliency.
- Keep in touch with friends and loved ones who are praying for you. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 teaches us how important close relationships are: “Two are better than one. … If they fall, one will lift up his companion.” Set up a plan to contact loved ones regularly and share your burdens. Be real and open; your honesty will help them to pray more effectively for you. As well, ask them about their needs. One of the best ways to deal with your own challenges is to pray compassionately for others.
- As your deployment comes to an end, prepare your heart and mind to come home. Your unit or organization will be providing classes and other training to help you prepare for reintegration. Pay close attention and try to apply what you learn to your personal circumstances. Remember, the military conditioned you to dial up your senses to survive in combat. Now you have to readjust and dial them back down as you go home and live in a more normal day-to-day environment.
When You Return
- Don’t try to go back to “the way things were” when you get home. Even if you had spent only the last several months away at college, you would have grown and changed. Your loved ones grew and changed too. Take time to reconnect, get to know them, and let them get to know you. Allow the changes in your life and your loved ones to create new facets in your relationship rather than challenges. Celebrate difficulties overcome and God’s faithfulness in all of your lives.
- Be patient with yourself. Your body has been conditioned for combat; be patient with yourself as you recondition to normal life. In the weeks following deployment, when you react (or overreact) to loud noises, shouts, and unfamiliar situations, know that this is normal. Some of these situations can be embarrassing and uncomfortable. Take these concerns to the Lord, and He will give you the courage and tenacity you need to work through any difficulties you face. If these symptoms persist, talk to a chaplain or health professional.
- Be intentional about your spiritual disciplines. It’s easy to get off-track when life slows down and you have the luxury of rest and recreation. But it is just as critical that you keep your times of prayer, Scripture study, and participation in worship in focus now as it was during deployment. You’re strengthening yourself for the next challenges to come.
Finally, realize that there is no one method, paradigm, or magic formula for handling the rigors of deployment. Each person is unique; each family is unique; and, each deployment is unique from the last one. There is one constant: God. He understands you, your family, and your circumstances. You can count on Him to help you meet every challenge. Thank you for serving!
The content of this article comes from “The Warrior’s Bible” (2014) and is copyrighted by Life Publishers International. Used with permission.
In article photo: Step It Out by the U.S. Marines licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0