Overcoming despair in combat zones

A Christian Science perspective: There is no situation that is hopeless, no matter what anyone may have done or have had done to them.

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Over the past couple of years, the rising rate of suicide in the United States military is one of the issues it has been striving to turn around. Many men and women in uniform have been struggling with the demands of multiple deployments to combat zones, and the families and communities supporting them have also been deeply affected.

While no specific causes have been identified, a Pentagon report has said that half of the individuals who committed suicide experienced a recently failed relationship. Alcohol abuse was a key factor, and almost a third of them had struggled with drugs (see The Christian Science Monitor, August 17, 2012).

In my own dealings with troubled men and women as a chaplain in the US Army Reserves, I’ve found that while many of them accept that a better life exists, they don’t believe that their situation can be turned around, or that they deserve such transformations. They feel a sense of hopelessness.

In my own prayers in support of such individuals, I have been comforted by the opening verses of a poem written by Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science:

It matters not what be thy lot,
   So Love doth guide;
For storm or shine, pure peace is thine,
   Whate’er betide.

And of these stones, or tyrants’ thrones,
   God able is
To raise up seed – in thought and
   deed –
To faithful His.
(“Christian Science Hymnal,” No. 160)

Those words speak to me of God’s continuous presence – guiding, lifting, loving, and healing. I find promise in the idea that regardless of whether we’ve done something wrong – or someone else has done something to us – God has a purpose for us, and it is always good. God can raise us up to know ourselves and His purpose. God has created us, and this relationship of creator and creation cannot be changed, tarnished, or disturbed.

Though this may not always seem to be the case in our day-to-day lives, there are helpful examples found in the Bible, confirming that everyone has worth and deserves to be saved – as, for instance, when the prophet Isaiah speaks of God’s actions to “open the eyes of the blind,” release “those who sit in dark dungeons,” and send a messenger in whom He delights and has imbued with His own spirit. What’s more, God promises to take the messenger by the hand and guard him (see Isaiah 42:6, 7, New Living Translation). Later, Isaiah says that this servant will bring God’s salvation “to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6, NLT).

This promise of purpose and guardianship extends to all, but it’s clearest to those who follow in Christ Jesus’ footsteps. The light that comes from his ministry will reach everyone.

The more I prayed with those verses from Isaiah, the more I felt comforted in knowing that those words reach out, through the ever-living presence of the Christ, to everyone across the globe. This means that there is no situation that is hopeless, no matter what anyone may have done or have had done to them. In fact, as we recognize even a glimmer of that value in ourselves that God sees, we are immensely strengthened. It’s as if God is saying to each of us, “I will take you by the hand and guard you.”

People who climb mountains in the snow use an ice ax. It’s especially useful when they lose their footing and start sliding down a slope. As momentum builds, it becomes harder to stop. But with an ice ax, the same body weight that pulls the climber down the mountain can be used to arrest the fall.

When the climber puts the ice ax up against his or her body, points face down into the snow, and lies face down on the hillside, the small point on one end of the ax is driven into the snow by bodyweight. This helps slow down the climber.

It’s pretty amazing that a tiny spike can stop a climber from falling farther. The spike doesn’t care what caused the climber to fall, or even whose fault it was. The spike doesn’t care how long the climber has been falling.

For me, having even a modest, still-developing sense of one’s inherent value to God – even as small as that point on the ax – and leaning firmly on it, is sufficient to halt a slide into hopelessness in any area of life. Self-worth has always been part of us as created in God’s image. It doesn’t depend on our performance. We just have to recognize it and claim it for ourselves. Meekness, joy, courage, and perseverance exist regardless of circumstances.

When we’ve done something that harms others, or we feel harmed because of another’s actions, it may seem hard to get back onto our feet. If this continues, momentum is gained, and it gets harder to snap out of the despair and return to living and loving. But the assurance of God’s care for all of us, noted in that passage from Isaiah – matched up with a pointed acknowledgment of our inherent, undeniable worth – can be just what is needed to arrest the fall, get us to our feet, and help us climb back up the mountain. God intends for us to make only progress.

Mary Baker Eddy, author of “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” often wrote about the inherent worth of God’s sons and daughters. She made it clear that the Christ is always present to save everyone from despair and hopelessness. She wrote that “Christ illustrates the coincidence, or spiritual agreement, between God and man in His image” (Science and Health, pp. 332-333). Through this insight, I have come to appreciate that as we glimpse even a tiny part of ourselves or others that affirms that “spiritual agreement,” we become more aware of God’s active presence and stability. We are indeed worthy, and no situation is beyond repair.

Adapted from the Christian Science Sentinel.

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