Thursday, April 7, 2011

Being there…

Y’all likely knew that my dad’s an attorney. Not a Law and Order lawyer, who daily dazzles and charms juries in the courtroom. Rather, Dad spent most of his working hours huddled behind his desk writing patents and copyrights for inventors and entrepreneurs. I grew up telling him, “There’s no way I’m going to write as much as you when I’m older!” So much for that theory.

Anyway, like most attorneys, my father worked lots of hours. Evenings, weekends, not always, but often enough. Still, one thing he was very good at was being there for family events- dinner, soccer games, school conferences. Professionals and working parents of all varieties find striking that balance between work and being present for the family elusive, and so did Dad. But he remained committed to maintaining it, not letting work consume everything, even stayed in private practice most of his career to ensure as much family flexibility as possible. That required sacrifices both financial and professional, but being there for us was priority #1. The older I get, the more I appreciate that effort.

Last week Friday, I went to a half-day conference at Bethel Seminary on “Ministry to the Military.” Many thanks to Laurie and Tim Leonhart for telling me and encouraging me to attend! Working parents in the armed forces, of course, don’t have the flexibility my dad cultivated to ‘be present’ for significant family events. When the commander says, “Do this,” you do it! Or when the government says, “Go fight this war,” you’re gone for awhile. I learned last week that while the age of our service members remains young- the largest segment is still young men between 18 and 25- the proportion of married and parenting sailors and soldiers has risen. Currently, over 50% of America’s fighting forces are married and/or have children. In other words, one of every two deployed soldiers can’t be present for a family who is, or should be, priority #1.

That gets complicated, obviously, since many married and parenting service members are proud to serve, and many families, while sad for the person’s absence, willingly share this sacrifice for something they consider greater than themselves. But it is truly a sacrifice, regardless how proud you are of your loved one. My sister, whose husband just returned from a year in Iraq, learned this well. Not being there at a child’s birth or after a spouse is laid off or during any number of significant events drains a person’s heart. Parents beyond the military surely understand this. But I suspect there’s something unique about being absent for months, while also being potentially in harm’s way.

At the Conference, then, we talked not only about the distinctiveness military life for service members and their families, but also how churches can respond. Since the military includes less than 1% of our population, and given everything else happening around us- poverty, hunger, injustice, despair, environmental degradation- ministry to the military isn’t something every church will undertake. But I do think it’s a need all Christians are called to reflect on and perhaps be ready to respond to however they deem faithful. After all, in our faith community and neighborhoods are people affected by the stress military service and deployment puts on families. Or perhaps a woman will visit next Sunday in uniform, asking a Christian community to help her. What do you do? Well, there’re many answers to that, but my favorite they gave last Friday was, “Be there.” If given the chance, be there for a wife whose husband can’t be, for a youth whose Mommy’s in Afghanistan, for a former soldier having trouble reintegrating to civilian life. Listen more than talk. Don’t judge or react negatively. Ask to learn their stories, rather than presume you already know. Be there, be present, but in a very Christian, love-your-neighbor way. It’s not new advice, perhaps the oldest we got. But worth remembering if ever we’re called as a church to respond to such a pressing need.

In the meantime, please continue praying with me for these families, military chaplains and others who help. And- always- for peace.

Grace and Peace,

No comments:

Post a Comment