It has been said that “the military is at war, but America is not.” While not everyone supports specific war efforts, the overwhelming number of Americans rightly supports our troops. Yet there is disconnection between the military and civilian worlds. Few at home understand what it means to be active in a war zone and the ramifications for every person involved in a warrior’s life.
War exacts a heavy toll on all who are impacted by it. Most Americans can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the news of the tragic events of 9-11, just as an earlier generation could recall these same details with regard to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. National tragedies are so gut-wrenching that they become indelibly etched in our minds. For weeks after 9-11 people were glued to their televisions. Americans watched the same video of a plane crashing into one of the Twin Towers. We repeatedly heard details of the attacks, casualty updates, speculation on who was responsible, and debate over how we should respond as a nation.
Now, many years later, the war has faded from the consciousness of many Americans. But not so for the spouses, parents, families, and friends of those many who have given their lives in the “war against terror.” Neither is it far from those who have loved ones actively serving in the military. If the church of Jesus Christ is to comfort those in need, we must understand the pain and worry that so many carry within, undetected.
We must understand to help them cope, survive, and heal. Read the Gospels and one discovers that Jesus is our model of compassion. He “was moved with compassion” toward the entire range of human need—physical (Matthew 14:14; 15:32), spiritual (Mark 6:34), and emotional (Matthew 9:36). Christians—who have a vital union with Christ—are called to “walk [i.e., live] just as He walked” (1 John 2:6). The implication is that we can and are empowered to do so, but we must understand those to whom we are called to minister.
Understanding Those Who Serve and Have Served
Anyone who has served in the military, even at home or in peacetime, has a certain discomfort reentering society. For most, the primary responsibility was to obey orders. The lack of routine, discipline, and direction in civilian life can be challenging. It’s culture shock! But the challenge is even greater for combat veterans.
A recent radio advertisement for the Wounded Warrior Project drew attention to our veterans who suffer the psychological wounds of war associated with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). This condition has always existed, but only recently has been given a name and studied at length. Who fully understands the psychological toll of war? Those who have been in combat often have difficulty making peace with what they experienced.
Those who have been in combat often have difficulty making peace with what they experienced.
After my son’s deployment in Iraq, we entertained one of his Marine buddies in our home during post-deployment leave. Making small talk in the kitchen one morning, I asked how his deployment went. He looked away and mumbled, “I got blown up a couple of times.” When I asked for details, he explained how, riding atop his Humvee as a machine-gunner, he was always on the alert for signs of IEDs and “the bad guys.” This constant adrenaline-pumping state of alertness takes its toll on the human psyche, but even more devastating is dealing with the death of fellow soldiers. One day a Marine buddy offered to swap places with him as they rode on patrol. He would ride in the back of a large transport truck and his friend would take his spot atop the Humvee. Almost in a whisper, with his face turned away, he said, “The Humvee was blown up, and my whole team was killed.”
Can anyone fully understand the “survivor’s guilt” this 19-year-old Marine took with him from Iraq? Books have documented the destructive lifestyles of such survivors. Suicide after war service is far too common. The admonition to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2) on behalf of the military does not end when they return from combat and we quit praying for their safety on the battlefield. Christians need to support and encourage those who have been to war, as well as pray faithfully for those who are still engaged in it.
Understanding Those Who Wait at Home
The film “Taking Chance” documented a Marine officer who was asked to escort home the body of a young Marine who had died in combat in Iraq. Two scenes stand out. The first is when the Marine officer is on a domestic flight and the pilot announces his presence and why he was there. The silence and solemnity of that scene gripped me powerfully, but not nearly as much as my own plane flight some months later when I saw a Marine officer wearing his uniform on my plane. Marines are forbidden to wear their uniforms unless they are on duty, and travel is not considered duty. Suddenly, tears filled my eyes as I realized that this officer was on duty, accompanying a fallen Marine to his final resting place. All I could think about was my Marine son—what he was doing in Iraq and if he was safe.
Sometime during my Marine son’s first deployment, my oldest son decided to surprise us with an unexpected visit home from graduate school. To do so he drove all night and arrived at 5:00 a.m. I was sleeping when he rang the bell, but my wife was already up and in the basement working on the computer. Running up the stairs, she could make out a car in the driveway but could not see who was at the door. When she opened it, there was our son with a big smile, as if to say, “Surprise!” The surprise was his, as my wife immediately dissolved into tears and sobs of relief. What he didn’t realize was something informed “Marine moms” carry with them: If his brother was killed in Iraq, the Marine Corps would send word immediately, unannounced, and in person. This kind of surprise would never be repeated in our family.
Spouses and parents of deployed soldiers and Marines often live in denial or with an inescapable fear of the unwanted news. During my son’s deployment, my days were filled with intrusive thoughts and prayers. I could escape only for the briefest of moments.
The church of Christ needs to know that these folks are in their churches and communities, and they need someone to speak the words of Jesus—“Do not be afraid.” We need to encourage them in love and help bear their burden. Just knowing someone else cares and is praying lightens that burden and makes it bearable. And we need to help them appropriate the promise of 1 Peter 5:7: “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”
They need someone to speak the words of Jesus—“Do not be afraid.”
Understanding Those Who Have Lost
The cost of war is incalculable. Every fallen warrior was a part of a family. For them the fatality count is not a statistic but a life with a name, a face, and a scrapbook full of memories. The men and women who serve today in our military do so as volunteers. But why do they sign up for service that could cost their lives? It’s because they love and value this country, and the freedom it affords. One young Marine wrote from his BP (battle position) in Iraq: “I know many here feel neglected, forgotten and unappreciated. But I think that most can always draw a smile when they think of loved ones at home living happy and carefree. I do. … I find joy in knowing that my family is safe and does not have to live their lives around threats of terror and someone coming into their country looking for a fight. I would much rather be ‘forgotten’ or ‘unappreciated’ … than to be under the circumstances that make it impossible for America to live its normal life.”
These sentiments are representative of those we send to secure our freedom and safety. Our country still produces such selfless and willing sacrifice on behalf of others. Jesus said it best: “‘Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends’” (John 15:13, NKJV). This sacrifice should both humble and inspire us to use our freedom well, to live worthy of their devotion. It should also compel us to reach out in compassion to those who bear the continuing weight of that sacrifice. For them, war will always be deeply personal and painful.
If you have read this article and feel compelled to help warriors and their families, consider these possible action steps:
· Help to relieve the burdens they carry by praying for them.
· Seek ways to provide practical assistance through your local church, veteran organizations, or the hundreds of websites on the internet that speak to these issues.
· Ask God how you might best use your time, talents, and resources to serve in these efforts.
· Get started now. With God’s help, you can make a positive difference.
If you are dealing with this issue, you do not need to face the challenge alone. Jesus has conquered every challenge so you can move from your present situation to a life of overcoming hope. Invite him to lead you in your journey. He will forgive, comfort, and heal you.
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