The following is an excerpt from my article “Welcome Home, Soldier” which appears in the November issue of St. Anthony Messenger.
What are some of our warriors’ spiritual struggles? Many struggle with the why? question: Why did I survive and my friend didn’t? I recall the anguish of a man who did not go on a mission because of being sick. His friend took his place and died in an IED explosion, sitting in the exact spot where the young soldier would have been. He is haunted by the thought It should have been me in that seat.
Some soldiers who ask why are trying to make sense out of senseless horror. Maybe they saw children run over trying to avoid a landmine. Maybe they watched a friend by burned alive in a flaming vehicle. “How can a loving God permit such things?” one soldier asked.
Then there are those soldiers who come back from combat no longer believing in God. As one man told me, “After what I’ve seen and done, the idea of God just doesn’t work anymore”.
Not every soldier lost his or her faith on the battlefield. Some found it. Others drew upon that faith to get them through both war and its aftermath. One man whom I deeply respect summed it up for me as I expressed concern about how he was doing. He looked at me, patted my shoulder, and said “As long as I have my Bible and a good friend I can talk to, I’ll be OK.”
Such straightforward clarity, given what this man has been through is truly humbling for someone such as I who spends a lot of time arguing with and questioning God.
So I encourage everyone to reach out to these wounded warriors. help them feel welcome. Help them feel there is a place for them in your spiritual community. If they indicate a desire to talk, take the time to listen to their spiritual struggles. Just listen; don’t try to fix. This will be a far more meaningful way of saying “Thank you for your service.”
Further reading: If you would like to receive a copy of the full article, send me your address at RichP45198@aol.com. Put “Article” in the subject line.
when my son came home from the way (it was his second time) that day was wonderful…then during the night hours as he was sleeping in his bed I heard faint cries…I stop to listen and because I wasn’t sure if what I was hearing was crying noises…when I was sure I knock slowly and open the door to his room and sat on his bed…I Caress his hair and forehead…he was facing the opposite way I couldn’t see his face…I stretch out on his bed and held my son…then I heard these deep sobs that racked his whole body…my poor poor babyboy…what have you seen or gone through…I just held him tight didn’t ask him questions or even talked…what seem like several minutes I heard in-between his sobbing a faint small voice saying mama will God forgive me for what I have done…I searched my brains for the right words to speak…and when I found my voice I was able to tell him…all this was always Gods plan my son…for we have always had wars and death is always around us…even in the bible during those times there was war…even brother against brother (Kane & Abel)… somehow it wasn’t me speaking but God’s words seem to find my brains…I told him that in Luck 21:10 states “Nations will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom”…I also told him that if he asks for forgiveness he will receive it…for also in the bible there were men and kings who like you went to battle for others…it was a long road and many more tears…as long as he had support and a sounding board like me to talk to and not judge him in anyway…I just knew he was on the road to recovery…I also stress the need to talk to someone other than myself…I also knew that being station in White Sands didn’t help WHY!! Because of the terrain which looks so much like Afghanistan… this one time when I took him shopping with me and it was going smoothly until all of a sudden he stop dead on his tracks and he was frozen…I looked at where he was looking at and he was staring at this person in a different type of military uniform…I nudge his shoulder and he blinked few times and I said “what is wrong” he said “that man is one of them” I was like what!!! He said you don’t understand mama but his is one of them…this is but one of many stories that he had to face…even while he was driving he would not be there…it got to the point I wouldn’t let him drive because I kept yelling STOP red light, or there a stop sign…with a lot of help I would like to say my son is doing find and has adjusted back into this world…AMEN…the best thing for these soldiers to do is talk and talk about it freely and openly without shame or judgment…
Listening without trying to fix is really a meaningful way of saying thank you for your service. I am not sure there is a way to fix the human experience of war. Bearing witness to the story is what we CAN do. To those whose faith is undone by the events of war, I ask, “What if God is not all-powerful? What if there are things even He cannot control?” We have all been taught that God is all knowing and all powerful. We never question that assumption. What if He isn’t? For those who suffer from survivor guilt, I often ask what percentage of responsibility they assign to themselves, and what percentage do they assign to others (including the enemy). One way I have dealt with my own survivor guilt is to make my surviving be in some way a tribute to the person who died so that the person’s sacrifice is not for naught. Mine is a family of warriors. When my son was in kindergarten, he said he was going to be a Leader of the class. I wondered if he would someday lead men (and now women) in war. His grandfather did. So did his great-grandfather. They both survived. I hope he will too.