Death is not the only way to lose a parent. Perhaps you know this from your own experience.
Your mom or dad has returned from deployment and you know you should be ecstatic and overwhelmingly happy; but what you feel is quite different because who they are is quite different too. Maybe they talk less and sleep all day, or perhaps they get angry at things they used to find amusing. Do you remember how they were before? Or is this intimidating stranger just not matching up with all the stories you heard and the few images you played over and over in your head while they were gone.
Whatever your unique story is, the fact that is shoved in your face every day is – they are just not the same! So how do you deal with it? How do you interact with them and the rest of your family in a healthy and loving way? How to you maintain resilience? What do you do to remember each day that the Lord loves you and will guide you? More than that, God will show you how to communicate his love to those around you, rather than frustration, anger, fear, or indifference. So how? Keep reading!
Note: Normally we share a personal story or a familiar one from movies or books to start off the online personal journey, but this time, we want you to think about your own story. Because what you are going through at home right now is a difficult and unique situation, it seemed right that we give you some practical resources as well as a “bigger scoop” of Scripture. As you read the advice in this section, take time to slowly piece it together with what you are going through right now, and use the Bible passages provided as your first step to regularly immerse yourself in God’s word.
There are a lot of things that a military member can experience that will change who they are, make them return home a different person. Maybe it’s something your whole family knows about like an injury or diagnosed PTSD. Perhaps it’s unspoken and you simply feel it hanging over your home, a tension and unease that makes every interaction a potential explosion. It can be especially challenging to handle if the people involved won’t acknowledge and deal with the issue.
Where does that leave you? You’re just a kid who doesn’t get much say in things. You certainly can’t walk up to your parent and say, “you need help, go talk to a professional!” The whole thing probably makes you feel small, powerless, and insignificant. But that’s not the truth. There are things you can do and some are very important! Probably the two things to focus on first are immersing yourself in Scripture to experience fully God’s love for you, and educating yourself about the warning signs and help available to military personnel and their families.
Knowing God values and cares for you is vital to your resilience in this situation. You need to constantly exist in the Lord’s truth that you are a wonderful and loved child of God, rather than whatever lies are being thrown at you by life right now. When you feel stupid or worthless or like all you do is make things harder for others, take a minute to talk to God and remember that he created you with great love and with a purpose – to communicate his love and glory to everyone in your life (It’s Not About You, It’s All About God). When you make a habit of living according to his message, rather than the world’s, you will find it easier to handle the stress and pain in life. More than that, you will find yourself capable of relieving others’ stress and pain, by following God faithfully and seeking to communicate love at every opportunity!
There’s another side to your situation, and that is knowing how to use the resources around you to help you deal with your mom or dad just not being the same. Talking with a chaplain, youth leader, or school counselor is a great first step in reaching out for help. Sometimes they can give you a perspective you had not considered, or point you toward resources, they may even be able to facilitate a bigger conversation between you and your family. In addition to that, there are some great online and on base resources created specifically for helping you and your family acknowledge and handle the problems you face. For some suggestions, check out the 411 and Challenge sections below.
If you are wondering whether anyone in the Bible ever experienced this sort of thing, consider the story of Saul. Have you ever heard about how he came to be the first king of Israel? It describes his “coronation” in 1 Samuel 9 and 10. When we first meet him he is a dutiful, unassuming son, who is just looking for his father’s lost donkeys. He wasn’t seeking glory or acting entitled. On top of that 1 Samuel 9:2 describes him as “a handsome man in the prime of life. Saul was a foot taller than anyone else in Israel and more handsome as well.” So humble, hunky, and honorable as well – the whole package.
Shortly after the prophet Samuel anoints Saul, we get this great story about how the Holy Spirit came upon him: “When Saul turned to leave Samuel, God gave Saul a new nature. And everything Samuel had told him happened that day. 10 When Saul and his servant arrived at Gibeah, a group of prophets met him. Suddenly the spirit of God took control of him, and he joined in their ecstatic dancing and shouting.” (1 Samuel 10:9&10) He sounds like the most joyful, God loving, wonderful person you could ever meet. It might remind you of your childhood memories of your dad, or the smile your mom is radiating in her wedding photos – this innate joy and love that seems to shine out from them.
Fast forward now a few years, to around the time that David defeats Goliath, and we find Saul a very different person. He is arrogant and does what he thinks is best, rather than follow God. He is disrespectful to Samuel, the Lord’s prophet, and does not put the good of the people before himself. He did a complete 180! The smiling, joyful, God-focused King Saul is gone and replaced with a greedy, arrogant, fearful, controlling, and angry man.
When David, a guy described as a man after God’s own heart, enters the picture, the contrast is huge, and impossible not to notice! It becomes undeniable, even to the King’s son, Jonathan, how far his father has fallen. King Saul is just not the same. Read some of their story now in the Central Bible Passage section; but know that there are chapters and chapters of stories about Saul acting with such anger and fear and David in return refusing to harm the sovereign King and showing honor to a man who only wants him dead.
These are two instances where Saul explodes at the people close to him. His anger and fear seem to completely dominate him, and all remnants of the humble, God-loving man who was made a king are gone.
1 Samuel 18:6-16
As David was returning after killing Goliath and as the soldiers were coming back home, women from every town in Israel came out to meet King Saul. They were singing joyful songs, dancing, and playing tambourines and lyres. 7 In their celebration the women sang, “Saul has killed thousands, but David tens of thousands.” 8 Saul did not like this, and he became very angry. He said, “For David they claim tens of thousands, but only thousands for me. They will be making him king next!” 9 And so he was jealous and suspicious of David from that day on.
10 The next day an evil spirit from God suddenly took control of Saul, and he raved in his house like a madman. David was playing the harp, as he did every day, and Saul was holding a spear. 11 “I’ll pin him to the wall,” Saul said to himself, and he threw the spear at him twice; but David dodged each time.
12 Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with David but had abandoned him. 13 So Saul sent him away and put him in command of a thousand men. David led his men in battle 14 and was successful in all he did, because the Lord was with him. 15 Saul noticed David’s success and became even more afraid of him. 16 But everyone in Israel and Judah loved David because he was such a successful leader.
This story comes after David and Jonathan, Saul’s son, have become close friends. Jonathan is no longer able to deny that his father is just not the same; in fact, he is afraid that Saul will try and kill David at the upcoming festival. So he sends David away and says he will find out if it is safe for his friend to return.
1 Samuel 20:24-34
So David hid in the fields. At the New Moon Festival, King Saul came to the meal 25 and sat in his usual place by the wall. Abner sat next to him, and Jonathan sat across the table from him. David’s place was empty, 26 but Saul said nothing that day, because he thought, “Something has happened to him, and he is not ritually pure.” 27 On the following day, the day after the New Moon Festival, David’s place was still empty, and Saul asked Jonathan, “Why didn’t David come to the meal either yesterday or today?”
28 Jonathan answered, “He begged me to let him go to Bethlehem. 29 ‘Please let me go,’ he said, ‘because our family is celebrating the sacrificial feast in town, and my brother ordered me to be there. So then, if you are my friend, let me go and see my relatives.’ That is why he isn’t in his place at your table.”
30 Saul became furious with Jonathan and said to him, “How rebellious and faithless your mother was! Now I know you are taking sides with David and are disgracing yourself and that mother of yours! 31 Don’t you realize that as long as David is alive, you will never be king of this country? Now go and bring him here—he must die!”
32 “Why should he die?” Jonathan replied. “What has he done?”
33 At that, Saul threw his spear at Jonathan to kill him, and Jonathan realized that his father was really determined to kill David. 34 Jonathan got up from the table in a rage and ate nothing that day—the second day of the New Moon Festival. He was deeply distressed about David, because Saul had insulted him.
- Do you relate to a part, or all, of Saul’s story?
- In what ways is your parent just not the same?
- What are the emotions you feel in response to how different your mom or dad is now? Which ones do you feel most often?
- Do you believe that asking God for help and trying to speak his love into the lives of your family members is valid and important? Is that something that is easy or hard for you to do?
- What types of emotions do you think David and Jonathan (or other people close to Saul) felt when faced with how King Saul was just not the same?
- What did they believe about God and his love?
- Do you think David was wise or stupid to respect King Saul constantly even though he was no longer a servant of the Lord?
- How do you think continuing to respect your parents and having faith in God affects your situation?
My life makes no sense. I thought this was supposed to be a happy time. Why did I wait and look forward to this? I don’t understand what is going on and I am discouraged that things aren’t getting better. How do I trust you? How do I love you and others? Help me understand and help me know what to do. Give me clarity and confidence. Help me to know that you love me and help me to know how to love others. I’m trying to trust you. Please show me how.
For information about what to do when your family member suffers from combat stress, consult this online resource. It gives you directions for taking the next step in getting help by giving you a list of people you can contact for help. Don’t forget to include your youth leader, small group leader, or other spiritual leader in the process, in order to keep God and his love and guidance present throughout this process. He loves you and will be there for you
Take some time to really read through the information provided on these websites about how to identify and help people suffering from PTSD and Drug Addiction. Familiarize yourself with them and use them to consider thoughtfully whether or not that is something your mom or dad is struggling with right now. If it is, talk with a trusted youth leader, chaplain, or school counselor about how to take the next step in helping them. In order to keep this focused on loving God and your family, take a few minutes to write a love note (not a blame or venting note) to your parent; be thoughtful and kind. When appropriate, maybe in a week or even a few years, give them this letter as a way to encourage them and let them know how loved they are. Keep in mind 1 John 4:7 “Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God.”
Sometimes situations at home with a parent who is just not the same can escalate to the point that it is more than you can or should have to handle. If you feel afraid and are worried about your safety, or the safety of a family member, go through this screening quiz to help you determine what to do. Though it is worded for a spouse or girl/boyfriend, it is easy to change the language to suit your circumstances.
Regardless of what answers you gave, if you feel afraid and don’t know how to handle what is happening in your family, talk to your youth leader or chaplain about how you feel and what God says about keeping yourself safe while still treating your parent with love and respect.
Nahum 1:7- The Lord is good and protects his people in times of trouble.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10- When we are at our weakest, God’s power and purpose often emerge the brightest. Consider how this applies to you and also your parent.
Psalm 147:3- God heals the broken-hearted and bandages their wounds.
Romans 5:1-5- Here Paul explains how having faith in God and residing in his love changes everything about how we react and interact with this world.
Isaiah 26:3-4- A call to have faith and confidence in the power, purpose, and peace of the Lord.
Small group guide:
Listen to one 101st Airborne Division Soldier’s story and how he made the choice to reach out for help in dealing with his depression.
Here is a news video clip about how substance abuse has become termed a public health crisis due to it’s growing regularity.
Large group guide:
- Pick a verse that speaks particularly to you and your situation. Rewrite it onto a post-it, notebook cover, or wherever you will see it multiple times a day. Whenever you see it, take a minute to let the meaning sink into your heart. Use that time as a daily reminder of God’s love and his provision. Never forget that he will sustain you and guide you!
- Make a list of the different emotions and reactions you are experiencing in response to your mom or dad. Underline the five most frequent ones you feel. Now take some time to pray and look through Scripture for insight into how God feels about each of those emotions. Remember he accepts and loves you no matter how you are feeling, but he wants his love to shape the state of your heart and your actions toward others, rather than unhealthy and harmful emotions. After you have spent some time considering your list, go and talk with your youth leader or a pastor about what you are feeling and how to continue forward in a God-honoring way.
- Write, draw, sing, in some way just create a part of your own story. Put into it whatever you are feeling and whatever is happening. You may share it, but keeping it private might actually help you more. In a time where everyone is constantly updating their status and sharing the latest thing in their lives, perhaps having something private that captures your heart right now and sharing it with God as a way of drawing closer to him will ultimately be more meaningful. Whatever you decide to do, be honest and use it as a tool to experience God’s love for you more fully.
A little military humor: