"I wish I never would have been born." "I just don't understand why all of this has happened to us. I mean, we're not bad people." "When I was 12, my dad beat me up really bad. I got his .45 and put it to my head." Words like these uttered from the depths of people's souls have marked my own soul. I feel the injustice of their stories in ways I cannot describe. I honor them because they were spoken from a place of transparency and vulnerability. As a military chaplain my work exposed me to more pain in one year than in ten years as a civilian pastor. I believe if we could see the wounds people carry every day, it would shock us.
"People are so broken!" This was all I wrote one time in my daily journal. I did not think or write it with a mean, judgmental tone. On the contrary, it was with sadness in my mind and heart. I recall it followed talking to a sergeant whose life was a mess. We did not share a common faith or common values about what a healthy life and family looks like. This added to my challenge in finding a way to help him. But I have learned that sometimes people just need someone who will listen to their struggle.
Suffering is a reality. In my work, I absorb a lot of people's pain. I try to deflect as much as I can, understanding I am not the Savior and can't fix every problem. Sometimes all I can do is show that someone cares and help people feel understood. No matter what front people want to display, I assure you there is no shortage of pain in our Soldiers. I try my best not to let people's suffering affect me, but sometimes it pierces the armor. There are nights when I lay awake thinking about someone's complex, and perhaps hellish reality, and wonder how some people even make it through the day.
Truth be told, I am not a very good counselor. Yes, I learned some basic techniques at seminary and in #armychaplainschool. I suppose they provide a starting point. However, I know myself enough to understand my strongest gifts lay in other areas. The best counseling training I received involved sitting with more experienced chaplains and "co-counseling." (Meaning, they counseled...and I listened.) As a brand new chaplain, the first Soldier I ever counseled went something like this: That morning the section sergeant asked me, the new #battalionchaplain, if I would speak to one of his Soldiers. I agreed and after a while he brought him over to my little office, located at the chapel. It was a cold Washington morning. I felt incredibly nervous. When they arrived I quickly opened the locked side glass door for the Soldier and shut it before the leader even had a chance to step in. I literally left him out in the cold for about 45 minutes while I "counseled" his subordinate. Over time I have learned to relax and just see people as people who are doing their best to make it through a life that may not be turning out the way they expected.
I have learned that brokenness is no respecter of age, gender, rank, or position. I have sat with weeping and broken privates, sergeants, senior NCOs, and commanders. In some ways we're all broken, some days more than others. I judge no one for their past or present situation. (I write about some of my own suffering in my e-book.) One of the best chaplain counselors I ever partnered with asked my Soldier, a senior-level leader, if there was one word he would use to describe himself. With tears he said matter-of-factly, "Shattered." I felt amazed and thankful that this leader showed a willingness to open up and reveal his reality. (I worry much more for those who keep it all buried inside.) I'm thankful for Psalm 51:17 that tells us, "My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise."
What about you? In what ways are you broken? I'm sure you know. Perhaps others remind you of it all too often, or maybe you do that yourself. Perhaps you have given up hope in certain ways. There's one truth I believe no matter what a person's situation: There...is...ALWAYS...hope. If you can't believe that for yourself, then let others, and God, believe it for you. It's been said that God's Word gives us a heavenly perspective about our earthly situation. Let these verses speak to you: Scripture tells us that it is through many tribulations we will enter the Kingdom of God, (Acts 14:22). Additionally, "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Whatever it is for you, it's temporary.
So who are the broken ones? It's every one of us...and we are not alone.