Veterans coming home from conflicts are faced with important work ahead of them, even though they may be leaving military life. The impressions of war make demands on moral and spiritual sensibilities for answers. The resolution of mental conflicts may be postponed until soldiers are back home and the high r.p.m. of battlefield intensity subsides. But the need to make some sense out of what has happened persists and is sometimes urgent.
From my career as an Army chaplain, I have found two paths that can lead veterans, sometimes unawares, in ways in which they can gain meaning and stability. One is in a little-known story in the Bible. David and his army were laying siege to Bethlehem, which was occupied by the Philistines. Tired of the water they carried with them, he yearned for a drink from the well of cool water within the city. Hearing that, three of his captains fought their way to the well and drew the water for David. When David saw how they had placed their lives in danger, it made the gift sacred in his sight, and he could not consume it for personal pleasure, but made it an offering to God (see I Chronicles 11:15-19).
I think veterans eventually come to know that when considering the sacrifices made in wartime – that not everyone comes back or comes back whole in mind and body – they cannot just consume life for personal pleasure. Because of everything that has happened, how people live their lives is a way to acknowledge those sacrifices and honor the memories of those who didn’t come back. I don’t think it’s coincidental that the generation that fought in World War II, the most widespread war in history and the costliest in terms of human lives and casualties, is often called the “builder generation.” The need to engage with society, to build, and to make things better for others is at the same time a way of responding to unresolved mental conflicts.
The other path is found in one of Jesus’ parables. It refers to the Son of man, also called the King, who is rewarding a group of people. As to why, they’re told, “For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” When those being rewarded said they were unaware of ever having done this for the King, he responded, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (see Matthew 25:31-40).
Investing one’s life in another’s welfare can have an unsought reward: finding one’s own wholeness being restored. Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy emphasized this fact: “The inevitable condition whereby to become blessed, is to bless others” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 127).
The ultimate answers we seek come from the ultimate source, God, Spirit. And they become more apparent as our trusts and ideals become more spiritual. However, along the way, finding our own good in doing good to others brings immediate rewards that move us along to that meaning and stability veterans yearn for.
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