This will be the first in a loosely related, occasional series.
I am the military spouse of a US Air Force officer. I sometimes hesitate to write on military matters, because as a pediatrician, my husband has overseas assignments that are typically semi-voluntary, humanitarian (not in war zones), and short (less than six weeks). Because of my lack of experience in long deployments, and because I strive to avoid didactic posts on this blog, I’ve found it difficult to write about. We’ll see how it goes.
Of great importance is that I’m not talking about military spouses in general. There are key differences in my perspective as a follower of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, who saved me through no effort of my own. A Christian milspouse (military spouse) will face life differently than one who does not have the help of the Holy Spirit changing her. If you do not know the peace that comes from knowing Jesus Christ as God and Savior, click here first. I’d love to hear what you think.
Later I’ll talk about some of the ways I’ve noticed Christians happily thriving in this community. This time, I’m going to talk about two major challenges that the military culture can present for a Christian.
First, military people tend to keep many of their relationships shallow. At our first duty station, we decided to live on base, and our next-door neighbors were due to move away a month after we moved in. I remember thinking, “I just won’t make friends with them, then.” A natural reaction, perhaps, but not according to Scripture. What does God say?
Eph 4:32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
In other words, our motivation for showing kindness is God’s love and forgiveness for me, not how it benefits me or even others. Now look at Paul’s example.
II Corinthians 12:14,19 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved. Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying.
Paul spent his life serving others. His motivation was not personal satisfaction. It was not so he might be praised and loved. In fact, Paul made the choice to love, knowing as he did so that he would be loved less in response. That’s a powerful example for us to follow, whether it be as parents or brothers and sisters in Christ.
Military families do have friends, and there’s a special camaraderie in the military. When I know of a new person, I’m motivated to reach out sometimes because I know what it’s like to be new. Many in the military culture are good at reaching out: organizing support groups, bringing meals, planning play dates. However, this is not the same thing as spending and being spent for the good of somebody else because of the Gospel. True, some military family members really do exemplify the self-sacrificial giving exemplified in Scripture. But many do not.
One reason we keep our relationships fairly shallow is that saying goodbye often hurts. But our motivation in Christ is not our own pleasure, but the good of others. I’ve learned this by failure, too. The first time we left a base, I hibernated for a week or so and didn’t say goodbye to anyone. It was easier than taking the time to say goodbye as I ought to have, and I chose the easier way, but not the godly way. Rather, we must give, without expecting something in return, knowing we may indeed hurt the greater for loving more biblically. Being in the military culture does not give us the option of disobeying God’s commands to love and edify one another.
Another reason we keep our relationships fairly shallow is that being transparent often hurts. This difficulty isn’t unique to the military community, but moving frequently can compound the challenge. It takes time to get to know someone, and we are reluctant to be transparent before we know and trust others. How is a Christian to respond? It’s helpful to remind myself that being a part of the military doesn’t exempt me from following the commands of transparency and accountability found throughout God’s word. Some personalities may have to be transparent more quickly than they are comfortable with. Other personalities may need patience when others do not reciprocate quickly in response to transparency. I must remember that I am responsible for my own obedience to God, and I cannot base my obedience on whether others around me are also being obedient. Moreover, I am called to obey even when it is difficult or “out of my comfort zone.”
In any situation, we have to examine our motives for showing love. Am I more inclined to invite someone over who is most like me? who I am most comfortable with? It is possible my motives are on the basis of how reaching out makes me feel, not simply out of obedience to Christ. Sometimes military members associate only with other military members, but that doesn’t reflect the community of believers we see in God’s Word. When I take the time to see what Scripture commands, my responsibility is more clear.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about how these challenges spill over into the realm of parenting.