When David prepared to fight the outsized Philistine soldier Goliath, the young and untested David refused to arm himself with the combat equipment of the day. Instead, the Bible explains, he used a sling and chose five smooth stones from a brook. David needed only one stone to dispatch his enemy.
What might those other four stones signify about the moral and spiritual dimensions of soldiering? And about what we owe to those who have served a higher cause in good faith?
Thanksgiving. Gratitude for those who've served their country as soldiers, sailors, Marines, and Air Force personnel wells up in so many of us without any prompting. Giving thanks – to veterans and to those on active duty – unites a people across all lines. Whether we wear our nation's flag on a lapel pin or less visibly cherish the values on which a country was built, we all have millions of reasons to thank God for those who've sacrificed to maintain our security.
Perhaps, like a pebble thrown into a lake, such thanksgiving begins with the serviceperson's own thanks to God for His help in times of fear or danger. We don't know all that was in David's heart when he volunteered to serve, but he went on to be credited as the author of psalms thanking God for His protection and deliverance, including the stirring words, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want" (Ps. 23:1). Thank you, God, for shepherding all who, in their own ways, serve You by serving us.
Willingness. David had to be willing to go before he could prove himself courageous for having gone. We pay due tribute to those who serve for their willingness to go into combat and struggle with its fears. But an equal sacrifice comes with those stretches of anxious waiting – the grind of training, long separations from family and friends, endless equipment maintenance, the uncertainties and unknowns of awaiting deployment, the encampment preparations and yet more waiting "in theater."
And those who support from home those who've gone off to serve also have served their country. This is their day of tribute, too – the wives and husbands, children, friends, and coworkers of those who've worn the uniform of their country and served in good faith. Willingness to face unknowns and willingness to wait are both divinely given graces.
Meekness. While meekness may not be at the top of many soldiers' lists of qualities most sought after, it's only because meekness is often mistaken for weakness. And yet it's the thing most needed in stressful times. Often those counted greatest among a country's servants have been its meekest citizens.
Jesus never donned a uniform or carried a weapon, but he was meek enough to walk through a hostile mob without fear, and gentle enough to silence a case of violent mental illness. Superior thinking is more vital than superior force in fighting evil. To fail at war is less of a defeat than to fail at integrity, and to fail at loving others as God's own children is the worst of defeats, because that shortcoming only enables more warfare. Those veterans who have led in meekness have taught some of life's most powerful lessons.
Hope. Many are the veterans whose hearts yearn for that distant day when no one will have to go into combat. When warfare's devastating effects on those who fight, and on innocent noncombatants, will be a relic of history. But even David, who went on to become a great military leader, must have known that no military victory will end all fighting.
This newspaper's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, said she prayed daily that there be no more war, and that peoples everywhere "have one God, one Mind; love God supremely, and love their neighbor as themselves." And while she foresaw a continued need for armaments "for the purpose of preventing war and preserving peace," she also affirmed that "national disagreements can be, and should be, arbitrated wisely, fairly; and fully settled" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," p. 286). That's a hope worthy of Veterans Day.