Living to serve
Originally appeared on spirituality.com
Veterans around the world, no matter what war they served in, share a common experience of investing themselves in their nation, supporting what they believe to be a true cause, motivated by a heartfelt desire to contribute to humanity’s betterment.
But for some veterans, the effects of war seem to follow them and their families. In the United States, much has been written about the effects of stress as soldiers return home after service in Afghanistan or Iraq. In extreme cases, this is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
After serving in combat as a chaplain with the 82nd Airborne Division, I was aggravated in crowds, I started to sweat when I was close to people, and I became ill-tempered over simple things. I recognized these symptoms as signs of early PTSD when I was attending a training conference. I looked up at a slide as they described the symptoms and realized, “That’s me.”
I was given time to remove myself from the conference and I prayed, studied, and had my own spiritual discovery retreat. I found much support from two statements Mary Baker Eddy wrote in the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures:
“Clad in the panoply of Love, human hatred cannot reach you” and “Whatever it is your duty to do, you can do without harm to yourself.”
I prayed to understand that I have served others in “doing my duty,” and that the “human hatred” that combat expresses did not have any effect upon me—nor could serving harm me. I was clad in the seamless covering of divine Love and the events of combat could not, and would not, define me, limit me, or keep me from expressing God’s love. I could live my life fully and not be “crippled” mentally from that experience.
The symptoms left in a couple of days.
When I was in combat again, about three years later, after helping with the care of wounded and dying soldiers, all these symptoms tried to come back. I prayed and reaffirmed my care was from God, and I was clad in His love. I could not be harmed in serving others. The symptoms left immediately.
For me, this healing shows that prayer enables us to overcome the effects of combat, the sounds and images that may seem to haunt us after the fact.
Another part of the military experience is dealing with those soldiers who don’t get to come back, but fall in combat.
In the John’s Gospel, Jesus is cited as saying, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Our veteran friends who made the ultimate sacrifice did so out of love for one another and for the hope that their deeds would bring the world to a better place. And that higher motive can bring us comfort. It can even guide how we live our own lives.
If we were to confine this Scripture to the literal example of losing one’s life, what does it mean for those of us who do not have or will never have the opportunity to prove our love this way? The question is “How do we lay down our lives for our friends?”
I worked for a construction company one summer. I would watch the masons build brick walls and other structures. They used a plumb compass and a bubble level. These two tools enabled them to establish their correct line and plane. Using these guides, they could “lay” down a wall or a foundation that was sound and true.
Imagine if we all used the Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount as our guides in “laying down” our lives. We would be lovingly obedient to God’s law as expressed in the Commandments and the teachings of Christ Jesus in this sermon.
What solid lives we could lead, and what blessings would come to our communities, as we built up our commitment to serving others! Structuring our lives with these great tools of faith, and the Biblical tradition, we would serve the community, nation, and world from a God-centered standpoint, from the strength and gentleness of Love.
This is a “giving” of one’s life that is actively unselfish and honors one’s friends through love. This is “laying down” a life dedicated to God—one that blesses by serving others.
Those serving, and their families, deserve our affirmations that they too are “clad in the panoply of Love,” and that they can serve and do their duty without harm. Our prayers for their security and freedom from fear will make a powerful contribution to their safety. Our conviction that God is with them and their families as a loving Father-Mother will help remove memories and stresses that could haunt them after combat.
And we lift our support for them even higher through the prayer that helps us “lay down” our own lives in a manner that is consistent with the great teachings of Scripture. When we do this we are actively honoring “veterans” with our service one to another, and to all the world. It is our active spiritual investment in humanity.
Safe with Love:
King James Bible