Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

A Way in the Wilderness

By Susan Maginn

“…to shine upon those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet toward the paths of peace…”
–Luke 1:79

I drove my government-issued truck into the desert to visit a Marines unit, the familiar cammie netting assuring me: Your people are here. A high-ranking enlisted leader had requested to talk to a chaplain. We found a rare patch of shade, sat in the dirt, and laughed a little as we called it my office.

The Marine said he was going through a tough time and needed to vent to a chaplain’s confidential ear. But I heard a story that was beyond “tough.” He told me what he had witnessed and done to protect others—tasks no Marine would ever wish upon another—things that still haunt him. He told me that sleep deprivation was catching up; how many Marines count on him; how he needs a break but can’t ever take one.

From behind, the silhouette of a U.S. Marine in dress uniform with a blue sky and a few clouds

I took in both the nobility of this man and how the weight of that nobility could soon break him, putting himself and his Marines at risk. I assured him that if he just wanted to trust me with his secrets, I would take them to my grave. However, I recommended something very different: to talk to his leadership about sending him home to get help. We talked about how this would look weak to the Marines he supervises, but how he could also set an example of what it means to ask for help.

He asked me to be with him as we asked his chain of command for their support.

An hour later, a senior-level command team member called me: he disagreed with me, and assured me the Marine would not come home.

I told him that it’s his job to make that call, and my job as a chaplain is to inform him when I think the command is assuming an excessive level of risk. As long as you make informed decisions about the risk, I told him, then my job is done. He said he would think about it.

The next morning I was informed that the Marine was flown home.

Military professionals need to remain mission-focused. Military chaplains are there to remind leaders that none of us are mission-making machines. The military teaches us that no matter how technically or tactically proficient we are, we are all replaceable. It’s a gift to know none of us are so special and none of us are so alone.

Prayer

Holy God, Thank you for the moments of humility that allow us to trust in the support of others so we can return to wholeness, realizing the hopes and intentions you have for our lives.