How does faith in Christ keep soldiers and their families connected during deployment?
by Michael and Janet Frese
When I received sudden orders to deploy to Afghanistan, I was flooded with emotions. The ache and pain of my first deployment had dulled with time, but in an instant, it came throbbing back. How would I break the news to my wife that I would be leaving for 12 months just two years after a 15-month deployment? What dangers and physical hardships would I face in the harsh desert terrain? In the midst of these initial fears, I also felt a sense of duty and adventure in bringing the Gospel to infantry soldiers on the front lines of war. This is why I volunteered to serve.
Being called away from family and into the danger of war feels like you are surrendering a certain tangible part of your role at home. Bedtime prayers and birthday celebrations continue on despite your absence. Cars still need oil changes and leaky roofs must be fixed–by someone else. By God’s grace, it is only a temporary separation, but there is still much trial and suffering. It is a cross to bear. Yet, God in His mercy uses this cross to produce fruit in spite of the pain, bringing lasting, spiritual good out of earthly suffering. This, too, shall pass, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.
Life in Christ is a stronghold in the midst of mortar rounds and IEDs. Time spent in prayer and reading the Scriptures takes on profound, personal significance. Phone conversations with family are short and precious, sometimes losing connec tion in the middle of a funny anecdote or heartfelt discussion.
When separated by war from loved ones, you realize how intimately you all are connected to your heavenly Father through prayer. A set prayer and devotional routine with your family is a welcome respite from the turmoil of combat or the loneliness of night. You may choose to study the Small Catechism together or pray the Psalms, one each day, helping to erase the distance of miles and multiple time zones.
You may not be physically present in your home, but as the head of the household, you are leading your family to their heavenly Father. As you read, pray and share, you are strengthening the bonds that God has given you in His family–the Church. As Christians, you are not only connected by family blood, but by Christ’s blood. Faith in Christ strengthens family ties and makes homecomings sweet, bringing lasting strength during and after deployment.
Being separated during deployment is an enormous sacrifice. You become a situational single parent, bravely juggling a myriad of new roles while praying fervently for your spouse’s safe return. Emotions run the gamut from feeling capable and strong to crumbling with loneliness and exhaustion, all while you try to carry on with something resembling a routine.
Putting deployment in the framework of vocation gives perspective to some of its challenges. Vocation is found in your present circumstances, in the here and now–not where you wish you could be. Parenting alone is difficult and certainly not ideal, but for the moment, this is what God has given you to do. Serving the United States in the midst of war is both exhilarating and frightening, but this is the work that God has given your spouse to do at this time.
Children would rather have their fathers and mothers next to them for meals, prayers, and conversation, but for the moment, communication must change to fit the circumstances. Take advantage of instantaneous email, chatting via webcam and a mostly reliable mail service, luxuries that were not available even a generation ago. Keep your spouse present in your daily conversation, whether remembering his favorite food, a joke only he would tell or a host of other nondescript memories. Continue on in your vocation–spouse, friend, parent and child of God–knowing that you are doing the work which God has given to you at this time, which is pleasing to Him.
In the meantime, while you wait for your loved one to return, remember that God does not leave you to fend for yourself. He has given you a community of believers, and He gives you a unique vocation through which to serve others. Relax your expectations of yourself. It’s perfectly fine to have pancakes for dinner, leave dirty dishes in the sink and go outside to chase fireflies instead. Be willing to accept help when it’s offered. Allow your friends to mow the lawn, take your children for the afternoon or drop off a meal. You’ll both benefit from their generosity.
It’s painful to be separated. Childhood milestones are missed, dinner table seating is rearranged, the bed is half-cold–but we can find comfort in knowing that God does not leave us in despair. His promise of life and forgiveness in His body and blood give comfort and hope in the midst of turmoil.
> Go to video.lcms.org/archives/813 to see Chaplain Frese explain what life is like for chaplains.
About the authors: Chaplain Michael Frese is a member of the National Guard and associate pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Ind.
Chaplain and Janet Frese live in Fort Wayne, Ind., and have three children.