PTSD and Psalm 23
Chris Kyle, Navy SEAL and author of “American Sniper,” who was killed Saturday, was a friend of ours. His death is yet another loss for the special operations community which we’ve served for more than 30 years. Hearts are broken. Anger is reignited. Traumatic memories are triggered. Our wounds are opened once again. And yet, in an irony that trumps Saturday’s blue-on-blue kill, we have a bittersweet opportunity as a nation to reach for another measure of healing and wholeness.
The alleged shooter, Eddie Ray Routh, is one of our own, a member of the U.S. military family. Initial reports reveal that Routh, a veteran of the Iraq war, had been in and out of mental health care. The cost of his apparent slipping through system’s cracks is now incalculable and irreparable. Even more shocking than the news about Kyle and his colleague, Chad Littlefield, is the harsh reality that untold numbers of other veterans teeter on the brink between mental wholeness and mental hell as they struggle to reintegrate into our communities. Last weekend’s tragedy underscores the responsibility that we as people of faith have in helping our veterans to completely come home.
I read a note from a good friend of mine this morning. He is a combat veteran who did back-to-back deployments for 16 years. He talks openly about his struggles with me. He unashamedly claims that it has been his faith in God that has enabled him to find hope and healing and solutions to the cries of his heart. Perhaps you’ve met him, too. His name is David. King David. He is my wounded warrior friend.
David is the best example of a combat trauma sufferer in the Bible. About 3,000 years ago he uncovered his heart of hearts in the Book of Psalms.
Because of David’s songwriting, we know that he wrestled with combat stress. He wrestled with sleeplessness, nightmares, guilt, and an aching body and bones. He cried himself to sleep. He knew the sting of betrayal by a trusted friend. He witnessed thousands falling at his side. He endured back-to-back deployments. He was guilty of fragging by his own orders and infidelity with a subordinate officer’s wife. He experienced both defeat and victory in battle.
David gave us a timeless framework in Psalm 23 for answering a pressing question today: What do families affected by combat stress and the invisible wounds of war need from the faith community? Allow me to share with you some ideas of what we as members of faith communities can do to make a positive difference.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want
David gets right to the point: God is the Shepherd. God is the Healer. We aren’t. Our job is to find the sheep, in this case, the military members and their families.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,he leads me beside quiet waters
Veterans and their families are worn out. We need rest and quiet and a safe place to recover. We need healing, Sabbath, and for others to stop talking and listen. Those who are moving through the dark valley need the opportunity to tell their stories, uninterrupted and to interested persons. Let them talk to you. Don’t ask certain questions like, “Did you kill anyone?” or, “What did you see?” Keep it all confidential.
Storytelling requires an emotionally safe place, a trustworthy friendship. Yet many vets and their family members need a safe place from physical harm. It is common for vets with PTSD to have self-destructive thoughts and/or suicidal thoughts. Some family members of veterans do, too. Also, family members may not feel safe at home at times. Offer your home as a refuge from the storm if that is ever needed.
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Vets and those who live with them need a compass, a plan toward wholeness that includes inspirational and informational resources, referrals to support groups or others in same boat, referrals to professionals including pastors/rabbis/spiritual leaders, medical professionals and agency contacts.
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
Vets and their family members don’t need our preaching or pushing or prodding. They need us to walk alongside them through the dark stretch of life.
You need to know that there are two types of PTSD sufferers: those who are Pitching Tents Someplace Dark, who have no intention of getting well or moving on, and those who are Passing Through Someplace Dark, who desire to get well and are teachable. The lie is that a vet and his/her family will never get out of this darkness, that his/her new, permanent address is in the valley of the shadow of PTSD. God tells us the opposite. His word says we are traveling through it, not building our houses there.
You prepare a table before mein the presence of my enemies.
Literally, veterans and their families enjoy a basic, home-cooked meal. Practice old-fashioned hospitality. Invite them to your home. Replenish their physical strength with your favorite recipes. MREs — meals ready-to-eat — get old quick! Figuratively, David means that we need your preachers, teachers and ministers to teach and preach with excellence. Nourish us with truth when we are with you. Consider starting small support groups within your congregation using “Wounded Warrior, Wounded Home” (available March 1), “Hope for the Home Front” and “When War Comes Home” workbooks and other reliable resources.
You anoint my head with oil;
Join the front lines! Pray for us. Veterans need prayer support. Their spouses and children need your prayers. Let them know what you are praying. Write it down so they can re-read it on faith-trying days. Many, many days are so dark that finding the words or energy to pray feels impossible. Consider starting a prayer team that meets regularly to pray specifically for the needs of your military families.
Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Veterans and their families struggle with feelings of rootlessness and homelessness. We need reminders that God’s presence is our home, here and for eternity, wherever we are stationed or posted or sent. We need reminders that we are “rooted and established” in His love for us and that no government orders, wars or deaths can ever change that.
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