Perhaps one of your family members serves in the United States military. In the preceding blog, we considered what *“best soldiering” includes and how **Luther’s thoughts help add spiritual focus to military service. Today I share reflections about how I might honor soldiers—while they are deployed and when they return.
In our church—yours, too?—we include armed services personnel in our weekly prayers. Perhaps not yet “Best Warriors”, these individuals deserve and need our prayers because they, too, exemplify the vocation and calling of warriors/soldiers.
Because they face the horrors of war and death, we certainly pray for their safety. And we’re generically grateful for their service. Given the profundity of their vocation, though, this well-meaning nod to soldiers might sometimes seem inadequate. (Some veterans have remarked how “Thank you for your service” conversations come up short as a way to acknowledge the profundities of military service.)
Descriptions of soldiering as a calling compel me to think—and pray—about soldiers in significantly different ways. In these times, soldiering is a profession that can garner high respect, which suggests that I do the same.
My first—and perhaps most important—task might be to admit that I don’t know that many soldiers or their families, and so might not consider them with all the kindness and understanding they deserve. (A sadness that some military families carry is the realization that their soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen may be invisible to people like me.)
Because military personnel deal with evil and danger in their rawest forms, I can’t rush to judgement about the ethics or morality of their work. I don’t face that kind of horror, so it could be more than a little hypocritical to condemn soldiering violence. (Think of the irony:
Criticizing the actions of soldiers whose vulnerable lives are devoted to the well-being of the society in which I live!)
When I talk with military personnel or their family members, I always want to treat their occupation with the same admiration I would give to other callings. I can ask good questions, filled with implicit appreciation and curiosity about the varieties of work embedded in military service.
Because significant spiritual components can be embedded in soldiering, I don’t need to tiptoe around spiritual matters when in conversation with soldiers or their loved ones. I can become more skillful in listening to their deeper, spiritual thoughts when they seem evident. This might begin with respectful, non-intrusive questions and gentle prompts that dig beneath surface-level stories. Listening for spiritually tinged verbal clues can help me discern how best to include matters of faith. Shared prayers can be a part of new and ongoing friendships with soldiers and their families. I can learn from the experiences and wisdom of soldiers.
My response to current and returning soldiers can move beyond simple notions of being helpful or supportive. As I interact with them and their families, I can take those relationships to levels of intimacy and admiration that include, but also move past generic gratitude. The skills and attitudes of soldiers can help me add faith perspectives to my daily life, so that I can be diligent and wise in my own battles with death, the Devil and my sinful self.
Because I regularly serve as an assisting minister at our church, I have the privilege of shaping parts of the Prayer of the Church. With greater awareness of soldiering as a calling, I can include petitions that include matters such as wisdom, mercy or kindness alongside the gratefulness of the congregation for military service.
And I can thank God for motivating men and women of faith to take up tasks of this calling, for the greater good and the fulfillment of God’s loving will for the whole world.
*(See https://www.usar.army.mil/ARBWC/ for further information.)
**(See http://godrules.net/library/luther/NEW1luther_e7.htm for the full text of Luther’s heartfelt description of what might be considered a “theology of soldiering”.)