Days of remembrance are not meant to be torture.
I see you, soldier.
I see your shoulders, squared in military discipline, weighed down with unthinkable memories. I don’t know what’s behind your eyes, but every once in a while I catch a runaway glimpse in your thousand yard stare. I see the pain bubble up, aged and potent. Old, yet raw.
There’s a hunger for absolution or amnesia that bisects your heart, sucks the oxygen out of your lungs.
I’m just a civilian, not a soldier. I get that I don’t get it.
I don’t know what you’ve seen. I don’t know what taunts you, what won’t let you sleep.
I don’t know what part of your heart has been ripped out and left to bake on foreign soil, or what scenes play through your mind and weigh you down with unbearable regret. I don’t know what ghosts accompany you when you’re alone, what phantom slithers through the rolodex of your mind. Scalding, searing, wounding, and relentless.
I don’t know.
But I do know something. Jesus knows.
You are defined by His scars, not yours.
He knew a day was coming when you could not stand what this life would throw at you. He knew. He knows and He sees. And He is not repulsed or intimidated by your pain, your memories, your regret.
He is not, like me, unaware of the realities of war. He has provided a remedy.
Time does not heal all wounds. Only Jesus does.
And He uses His word and His people to help.
I see you standing in a sea of civilians who don’t know what combat looks like. You may be surrounded by people who do not understand, but that is not the same as people who do not care. There is very little in life more painful than watching someone you care about suffer while being unable to help them. (I bet you get that more than most people.)
That’s exactly where your family is. Your church. Your friends.
We feel the edges of your pain, and we grope, blind and clumsy, trying not to dislodge scar tissue. And honestly, we’re not very good at it. No one teaches you how to be the wife, the child, the parent, or the friend of a combat veteran. We are flying blind, scared to death, and doing the best we can. The learning curve, as you know, is high. We fall, a lot. We’re sorry.
But we can’t do nothing and watch you hemorrhage your life away.
Help us. Your pain is a locked room, and the handle is on the inside. No one can enter, no one can help, unless you grant us access. Teach us. Please.
- Let us grieve with you. We don’t need the details if you can’t share. Tell us, even a little, what you lost, and let us mourn with you.
- Let us honor you. You did what we could not, and that is worth recognizing. To us, you are a hero.
- Let us speak truth, and you do the same. There may be pieces of your story that you aren’t proud of. (Who doesn’t have those pieces?) If that’s so, please let it out into the light. If you can’t (or would rather not) share those pieces with your family, talk to a chaplain, a Christian counselor, or a mature Christian friend. There is nothing that will shock Jesus. (2 Corinthians 5:21) Nothing. And if you never tell anyone, it will fester, and grow toxic, and poison you and your relationships. It needs out. Let it.
- Let us know how to help you. Is there anything that you notice contributes to flashbacks? Tell us. We can handle that crowds, loud noises like fireworks or popping balloons, and violent movies may not be helpful right now. Just tell us. Is there something we could do that would be encouraging to you? How can we best communicate our needs? Silence suffocates.
- Let the healing happen. Spending your life looking back is living with less than you deserve. If you need a counselor, get one. If they aren’t helping you, don’t give up. Try another one. If you need a psychiatrist, see one. It is not weakness to fix what is broken. It’s courage.
You are not alone.
There’s a whole lot of us, wanting to do life with you. We like you. We want to do Saturday barbecues, and Sunday dinners, and Monday football and Wednesday paintball with you. And all the regular life stuff in between. Does that sound too frivolous after what you’ve survived?
Life at home doesn’t look like a war zone, but there’s still a whole lot that you can contribute on so many levels. We want to know you. We aren’t perfect (in fact, we’re all in various stages of messed up and work in progress), but we can be fun, and we can be sad, and we can be noisy and obnoxious and loving. We need your perspective, your experience, your story.
We need each other. We need you, and you need us. It’s a mutual need, a mutual gift, a mutual blessing. We were created to crave community, and that is why isolation is so deadly. Together, we make it. Alone, we die.
We are stronger and healthier, together.
You are not unappreciated.
Can I just say thank you?
Thank you that because of you, I don’t get it. Because of you, I’ve never seen war. Because of you, I can sleep at night unafraid. A gift like that…it’s unimaginably huge. The words thank you will never be enough. Ever. But words and presence and prayer is all I have.
I pray a benediction over you, warrior.
May you feel the kiss of heaven settle, feather-light, on your eyes that have seen so much. May you rest your battle-weary head on Jesus, who took your sin and your pain as His own. (Isaiah 53:4) May you lay your sorrow and doubt and anger at His feet and walk away lighter. May your heart find healing and peace in the truth that His grace is enough. Always.
You are a soldier.
You are not forgotten. You are not alone. You are fully seen, fully known.
And you are beloved.
This article first appeared on iBelieve.com in May 2016!