We express our deep concern, love, and care for our troops in many different ways. We send them care packages, letters, Bibles, pictures, and e-mails. We tell them that they are missed and that we pray for them.
But what about the families and friends who wait at home? Throughout the ELCA there are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, spouses, children, extended families, and close friends of the troops.
One ELCA pastor relates that, “It was a difficult time when our son was in Baghdad for 16 months. Being a pastor who is supposed to have it all together in terms of faith, it was hard to ask for help and to tell people that I struggled daily with fear for my son.”
“It would have been great if someone had said to me, ‘I sent a letter to your daughter today.’ I would have felt easier knowing she was getting a note from home.”
Another parent, whose child was in the Vietnam conflict, felt that her congregation did not support her or her family, “I cannot remember any great support from my church — friends, yes — but somehow one got the idea that in the church’s eyes the military was frowned upon.”
With waiting and worrying, anxiety is high. There is uneasiness during the day, and emptiness that haunts at night. A parent remembers the anxiety she felt during Desert Storm, “There was never any mail from him. I didn’t know where he was — was he okay? I saw the Desert Storm news every day, every newscast, but where was my son? I needed someone to help me cope with my nearly debilitating fear.”
For some there is greater responsibility and more work, which adds to the feelings of anxiousness. All the child rearing, bill paying, housework, and problem solving, now fall on their shoulders. Finances are tight, on top of the stabbing worry, the throbbing headaches, the addiction to the television, and the weight loss (or gain) that results from a spouse, child or grandchild having gone to war. All this, while the children of soldiers act out in school, suffer from anxiety attacks, and cry themselves to sleep.
One spouse regrets not asking for help, “I wish I had asked for a Stephen Minister to comfort me. I needed someone I could call when I was really afraid, someone who would just listen. And it would have been great if someone had called and offered to stay with the kids so I could have a day out.”
How can we as individuals and as congregations help the families and friends of our deployed military? The following are a few suggestions for consideration.
- “It would have helped so much if someone would have invited us to dinner in their home, or to go to a movie with them. We felt very isolated during that time.”
- “It would have been great if someone had said to me, ‘I sent a letter to your daughter today.’ I would have felt easier knowing she was getting a note from home.”
- “I silently said ‘Tim,’ when in the Prayers of the Day we prayed for “all those who serve in the military.” How meaningful it would have been to our family, and other families in our church, to hear our soldier prayed for by name.
- Fortunately, there are ELCA congregations helping families of deployed soldiers: Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Wytheville, Va., provides calling cards to troops deployed in war zones.
- Members of San Marcos Lutheran Church, San Marcos, Calif., have developed a “Prayer Wall," filled with pictures of soldiers and of their families, a visual reminder to the congregation to care for the families of deployed soldiers.
- In Austin, Minn., churches joined together and held a dinner for all the military families.
- At St. John Lutheran Church in Mendota, Ill., the names of military personnel are listed in the bulletin every week.
- At Central Lutheran Church, Anchorage, Alaska, congregational members write letters to soldiers and befriend their families. For at least one soldier and his family, the congregation sponsored a Welcome Home party.
Within our ELCA congregations, the retired military members have special empathy. One man wrote, "It is my duty and honor to help however I can. I support Ron whose son is in Iraq — I’ve been there, I know what it’s like, and I can listen to his concerns."
This article was published in Seeds for the Parish
, a bimonthly resource paper for leaders of ELCA congregations.