The parable of the wise and foolish maidens surprised me as I never have juxtaposed marriage and its similar image of being “married” to the military before. Being in the military is like being married—once committed you’re in it.
The preparation for a wedding in the Middle East symbolically represents the preparation and training that a civilian goes through after signing the dotted line on the enlistment papers. Your life is no longer your own. The soldier, sailor, airman or Marine becomes a servant. Most weddings take place in autumn or winter in the Middle East as the growing season is over and more time is available to spend what can be a week-long series of ritual events. Candles and lamps were used to provide light and would be procured in preparation for several months beforehand. Weddings begin when all is ready, not by chronological time, and can be delayed until the late evening hours.
Jesus tells the story about 10 bridesmaids. Only half of them made the preparation to obtain and bring enough oil for their lamps. The other 5 expected to be able to find some when they arrived in town only to find the shops closed. Lamps were necessary as processions would go throughout the town down unlit narrow streets. One could not participate if they did not prepare enough oil to provide light.
Preparation is a key word paralleling this story and the lives of veterans. Veterans spend much time in preparation and training for the difficult and often multifaceted work that they volunteered to embrace.
This reveals a basic truth that unless one invests in the will to act, nothing is gained and failure is imminent. This is both true in the military and the civilian world. But it is also true in the spiritual life.
Unless one practices stewardship of time and energy investment, one does not grow spiritually. God did not create us to fit His life into ours but Jesus came so that we might learn and practice how to fit our life into God’s in order to receive our true nature. It takes intention, time and practice. It also takes a willingness to journey within to discover who we really are and the God who waits for us in the depth of our being.
The greatest virtue that the veteran embraces is embodied in the words of Jesus in John 15: Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends. It is important to realize that Jesus was not a victim but that he chose to hand his life over. Veterans lay down their lives for their fellow veterans and country if the situation necessitates it. There is no greater act than this. One hands his or her life over so that others might live.
There are many levels of handing one’s life over. A loss of personal freedom where the veteran was told where to go instead of having a more pleasant choice. Or putting oneself in harm’s way with unpleasant consequences besides being a casualty and the ultimate sacrifice.
When veterans are discharged and make the adjustment—the sometimes long, tedious and difficult adjustment to civilian life, many of them, from my experience as a therapist, enter what I call, their second deployment. This second deployment involves adjusting to the civilian world, but for some, the adjustment is made more difficult because they are still living the memories of their previous deployments either physically, psychologically, spiritually or any combination of the three.
The explanation of these three domains is beyond the time we have here to address.
But the experience of the second deployment is known not only by the soldier, sailor, airman or the Marine, but by their families, friends and sometimes neighbors as well. This is why it is important not only to recognize the veterans but the family members and friends as well. Notice the proportion of our congregation whose lives are involved with veterans. We are grateful. Thank you.
How do we recognize veterans when and after they return? Our good intentions of honoring veterans may not turn out so well unless we do so with knowledge and insight. Veterans are individuals. And being individuals, each has different needs and outlooks on their varied experience. Welcoming veterans home and thanking them for their service is generally, a more sound approach than emphasizing that they are heroes, even though they are. Not knowing the individual veteran’s mind, emphasizing that they are a hero may not be congruent with their experience. When one suffers from moral injury, PTSD and other factors, being called a hero may feel incongruent to a veteran and lead to feelings of alienation. We have the choice also to serve by making sure that our intentions are clear so that our gestures are helpful to veterans first instead of the temptation to make us feel good.
Both Jesus and veterans model the mission mindset of a servant. We would be good to emulate them.