Caring for Real Leaders
I will never forget the day that I was almost taken out by a U.S. Marine. I was a little kid working in a boat dealership when I walked into the shop one day and said, “Hey Tommy, have you seen that spare tire for the trailer?” When I did, I startled Tommy, a Vietnam vet, and he immediately grabbed a shovel, spun around and started swinging at everything in sight, including me. I dived for cover and was hiding behind a fishing boat when he just “snapped out of it,” and was suddenly himself again. I had no clue what had just happened, but it was terrifying. Tommy told me later that he had the “jitters,” as he put it, since he had returned home from the war.
Now, as a psychologist, I understand more. PTSD and other scars of war are real, and life-altering. What Tommy was experiencing then we have much more knowledge of now. We know what causes it and we know how to treat it. But there are still many barriers that keep people from getting the help they need. Multiple deployments, lack of local resources, and sometimes stigma and fear keep people in distress long after they have returned from battle.
Which brings us to the topic of leadership. If you are in a role of leadership that gives you the power to influence thinking and to deploy resources, ask yourself if you can devote any of that influence or resources to the military and their families with your influence and stewardship. If you are a pastor, are there things that your church could do to help those who serve our country? If your church could minister to our soldiers, they sure need it. If you are the head of a company or organization and have the ability to make services available to military, then they would benefit greatly from what you could offer. And if you are a counselor, you might find that God is nudging your heart to do something in your practice or community that reaches out to those who fight to protect us, and those whose lives have been touched in some way by the trauma of war.
And for all of us, we can be constantly mindful of the needs that our returning military has, and we can remember to do whatever we can to help them and their families recover from the trauma that war brings. I have seen up close the role that the church and community of friends can play in helping loved ones grieve and cope with the pain of losing a family member in battle. Without that kind of support, it is impossible to move through a time like that very well.
Also, apart from trauma and PTSD that the ones in active duty suffer, military marriages and families must also cope with the constant cycle of being apart from the one who is deployed, and then re-engaging again and trying to establish a consistent family life. That is not always easily done, and the stronger community support that those families have, the better. When they are grounded in a community that supports marriage, and helps them cope with being alone a lot of the time, they do better. If you lead a ministry in a local church for example, you might want to think of ways that your ministry could reach out to military families in your community and let them know that you are there and have support to offer.
We usually think of leadership as resting in a position, like the ones that I have mentioned above. Pastor, organizational leaders, ministry leaders and the like. With those roles come resources, influence, power, and the ability to make things happen when there are needs to be met. That is why I mentioned them first. But there is more to leadership than a position.
In reality, leadership often happens apart from positions because someone gets a “holy discontent,” as Bill Hybels puts it, and decides to make themselves available to God to allow Him to use them. As a result, they find themselves “leading” the effort to meet a need that God has put on their heart as they spring into action, apart from any position. I know of one woman who got tired of hearing of the kids in her city who were going hungry, decided to begin to invite a few to her house for afternoons of homework and food, and now “leads” a full time ministry to hundreds of such kids in her southern town. That is leadership through action, without a position. And sometimes, a position follows.
Might God be calling you to do something similar for someone in our military or their family? All it takes is a willing and obedient heart, an open hand, and a little faith. Now and in the upcoming years, this need is not going to go away, as more post-traumatic issues surface. Let us all ask Him what he wants us to do, and if he points out something to us, let us hear him and do good for those who give it all for us. In doing so, you might find that others will follow your lead and do good things as well, and your efforts will be multiplied. That is a great fruit of leadership.