In Transition: Veteran, It’s Not All About You (me)
Maybe you’ve bled, literally.
For years, maybe longer, you’ve sacrificed.
You’ve toiled countless days under the bright heat, trudged the jagged Konar, patrolled the filthy Baghdad streets, never knowing when death might call. You’ve eaten dirt and eaten like a king, squeezed in a few minutes sleep on the floor of some foul-smelling crapatorium, all while being crushed to death by a thousand pounds of miscellaneous kit under the harsh desert sun.
You’ve sweat and wept and bled and taken a dump under the most impossible of circumstances. You’ve lost. Friends maybe. Any lingering innocence, certainly. A few poignant moments haunt your conscience—an unspoken word, an ill-fated decision, the unmistakable smell of charred flesh.
The blood-soaked sand forever testifies.
Now the system is telling you it’s time to receive.
You lay down your arms to a bevy of voices trumpeting the consideration you’ve earned, bestowing honor and praise…and benefit. You merit special handling.
I affirm this. I affirm your earned stripes. I’ll buy you a beer in Valhalla, if there were such a place, but the mindset troubles me. There is a prevailing attitude among many(some) veterans that betrays the attitude that shaped their service from the beginning.
It is an overwhelming desire to be served.
I’ve given, now it’s time to receive, no matter what it may cost another.
A Right Heart
Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, details true, biblical love.
Love is patient and kind. It does not envy or boast, is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)
In other words, love, true biblical love, involves sacrifice, putting your own needs and requirements after those of another. Paul, curiously concludes this section with this, one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture:
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11)
In other words, the business of a man is to love…to love in a biblical way, to love sacrificially, to love selflessly. The way of a child is to issue demands, to impose requirements, to place self ahead of others.
Paul exhorts the men of the church to…be men, to act like men, to love like men.
What if we exhorted one another to the same, even after leaving the profession of arms…especially after leaving the profession of arms.
Allow me to level the bubble.
Your wife, your children, they’ve sacrificed as you have…possibly more.
My oldest daughter seemed to get it the worst. Every year, despite my best efforts, I’d be deployed on her birthday. Year in and year out, more of the same. She’d cry a bit and then get over it. She’s a good army kid.
The last time was the worst.
It must’ve been the third or fourth year in a row when I found out. Once more I’d be deployed on her birthday. I couldn’t believe it! With dread, I sought her out to break the news. Expecting the usual tears, what I got was infinitely worse, a shrug and a slight, sad smile, “That’s okay, Dad. I understand.”
I hated deployments, every one of them, every time. I longed to be home with my family. I resented the lost moments. I begrudged the dreadful months. I hated every single day away. Every. Single. Day.
Except I didn’t.
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.”
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”
The higher call gifted me a reason. My brothers delivered me a purpose. Engaging the enemies of righteousness in battle drove my ambition. I trembled at the prospect, enamored of our audacity, descending from the darkness alongside my brothers-in-arms onto the unsuspecting heads of wicked men, standing as sword and shield against the tyranny of oppression.
My wife was left behind. Period.
The Tightest Grip
“Hold the rope.”
This was William Carey’s plea to Andrew Fuller before embarking upon his mission trip to India. As the father of modern missions, Carey’s plea was for support. He would go. Would Fuller and his church support him, prayerfully and tangibly?
She’s held the rope.
While you’ve sucked down the desert sand, she’s cleaned a thousand runny noses, wiped a thousand butts. She sat up all night with sick kids and tear-streaked cheeks knowing she had to rise early the next morning. Exhausted, she put on a smile each morning, not wanting the kids to see her struggle, only to sit with her head in her hands the second they left for the bus stop.
And she wondered about you. Okay, she didn’t wonder. She agonized.
What were you doing? Were you okay? Were you safe? Who were you with? Why hasn’t she heard from you in awhile?
Did you meet somebody?
She had to hold it together, hold the rope. She had no other option. Maybe she put her life, her hopes, her dreams on hold…for you. Maybe she did it gladly. Maybe she did it begrudgingly, but she did it.
Must she do it once more?
A New Look
Conflict beckons. Bitterness knocks. Families disintegrate.
Many warriors struggle off the battlefield and perhaps it’s because of the message.
We’ve trained them that they have a right to feel disenfranchised. We’ve communicated to them that they have a reason to misbehave, that it’s normal, it’s okay. And most of all, the system trains them to feel entitled, to desire to receive. We’ve taught them to exchange the spirit of love and service for a regard for self. We’ve taught them that they are the center of concern, the focus of affairs.
I’m convinced that many of the problems our veterans face stem from this clash of intersecting and competing attitudes.
Let us reshape the narrative.
Quit emasculating the veteran and empower him. Exhort him to continue to serve, to continue to give, as able. Let us reject the notion that he is automatically damaged and incapable, requiring special consideration.
Consider your family, your wife.
Instead of focusing on your struggle, on your affliction, on your needs, see this as an opportunity to be strong for her, an opportunity to love her unconditionally, to put yourself in the backseat and let her reach for her dreams and goals. Consider this opportunity to serve once more.
What if, upon sheathing your sword, your call was to lift her up, to empower her to become who she always wanted to be? What if, upon laying down your guns, your wife and your children became your mission?
Would you be satisfied with that?
Should we shelf our heart for service just because we’ve removed the uniform?
We must reject being shaped into a caricature of who we once were by forces concerned with political expediency and social leverage.
Noble warrior, with all urgency I plead with you to take your turn at the rope. They deserve it. Indeed, they always have.
Author - Founder
Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).
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