(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)
Last week we concluded our conversation on the third response available to the faith community as we discussed seeking a restorative path. This week, we will look at the fourth response available to the faith community, create space.
A faith community’s priority in mission and ministry should be extending hospitality. What comes to mind when you think of hospitality? Entertaining family and friends? A chore because it demands commitment, but has no lasting results? Martha Stewart? Or, something that brings joy and deep relationships?
For the faith community, hospitality reflects God’s response to a broken world as it becomes the means by which God’s healing strategy is lived out through the witness and work of God’s people. A faith community that lives this role will warmly welcome the veteran and the veteran’s family into the midst and life of the congregation. More importantly, hospitality opens the faith community to the possibilities to be a community of support, healing and well-being.
One of the aspects central to the warrior and her/his family is community. There is a special bond between brothers and sisters in arms, and between military families, in part because of the sacrifice required to serve. This bond extends not only through the support of each other during daily routine activities, but I would offer, even to the point of “laying down their life for their friend.” This is truly community!
When a warrior separates from military service, he or she experiences a loss of community. This loss can be difficult and at times overwhelming. Who or where can the veteran turn for a sense of community? Where can the veteran find persons ready to be supportive, caring, and committed during daily routine activities and the times of challenge?
The faith community can provide this critical function. In the true sense of hospitality, the faith community can provide a friendly reception to the veteran. But hospitality goes much deeper. The faith community can develop a loving and supportive relationship with the veteran and his/her family. Social support becomes a critical component in veteran care. The faith community does this by creating space.
Hospitality in the ancient world focused on the alien or stranger in need. Hospitality meant graciously receiving an alien or stranger into one’s home or community. It also meant providing directly for that person’s needs. It directly involves creating space.
The story of Abraham points to how God can use the faith community to touch lives in a powerful way. Abraham created space through hospitality by; (Genesis 18:2-8)
- engaging actively – He did not wait for the visitors to come to him, Abraham went out to meet them where they were.
- exhibiting sincerity – Abraham was humble in conversation and action (used humble forms of address, bowed before the guests, washed their feet).
- providing for their needs – Abraham and Sarah prepared a meal using the best ingredients.
- committing beyond their initial encounter – Abraham walked a distance with his departing guests.
What spaces can the faith community create through hospitality that will partner with the veteran?
- Engage actively – We meet the veteran where they are because it is where they feel safe. Safety and trust are paramount to the veteran. It would be wise to explore places where veterans meet; i.e. veteran’s day parades, VFW, American Legion, laying a wreath at a national cemetery, on the job, or at a work site. Engage actively by being interested, but do not push. Be patient.
- Exhibit sincerity – No matter our feelings toward war or the warrior, we treat every veteran with respect as we listen to their story with our hearts, not judging them or their experiences. We validate the veteran by listening to their story, not trying to fix them. Please understand the importance of what I am about to share. Members of the faith community CAN BE a great resource. Prayerfully contemplate the experiences of the veteran returning from war. The stakes are high and the costs of war are very personal. Therefore, attentive and non-judgmental listening will help the warrior in his or her spiritual journey. For a veteran, telling even a small snippet of one’s story and feeling heard and accepted may be the first important step toward healing. Just a few things to consider;
- A veteran may sometimes make politically incorrect (at least from the listener perspective) comments. If you react negatively, they may conclude you do not have the capacity to bear the brunt of their trauma story.
- Sometimes when listening we reply, “I understand how you feel.” A veteran rightfully believes that unless you have been in combat yourself, you can’t fully understand.
- Often when telling a war story, the warrior may use a string of 4 letter words. Important not to interrupt and correct. You are to listen to their sacred story.
- A veteran may appear angry. The veteran’s anger is not directed toward you.
- Don’t change the story. It sends the wrong signal, you are not interested. This is their story. By understanding their story in the context of spiritual meaning, we then can relate to the person not the war. This is the most important step toward exhibiting sincerity.
- Providing for their needs – Whatever that may be, we give the veteran our best effort and resources. We give the veteran our time. We provide the veteran a safe place for worship, fellowship, and service. We offer pastoral and congregational care, if asked. If they feel the Veterans Administration has not been responsive, we offer to walk with and work with them, if they ask.
- Committed beyond the initial encounter – Once a relationship and trust has been developed, we walk with the veteran on their journey. We do not pass the veteran or their challenges on to someone else. When the veteran feels ready to move on the journey without us, they will let us know.
How can the faith community create space?
- Physical space – Faith communities can open their facilities for various veteran group meetings, such as peer support groups. Peer support groups have provided combat veterans a great source of comfort and care. The groups comprise of combat veterans who regularly meet to share in their story, struggle, challenges, as well as offer encouragement. Peer support groups provide their own facilitators. Additionally, military family members have sacrificed much. Some care for their wounded loved one. The faith community can provide needed support through group meetings and by offering child care. Be aware, the faith community can be a safe haven for the returning warrior and family. However, some veterans may not feel comfortable in the physical space of a church, temple, synagogue, or mosque because of their spiritual wounds. If this is the case, the faith community can lease, rent, or make available other space more conducive to the veteran’s needs.
- Resources – Faith communities that have professional counselors can make these resources available for free or at a reduced cost. Veterans within the congregation can be a great resource through a spiritual mentoring program. A veteran, who is a spiritually mature faith community member, can be a mentor to a more inexperienced veteran. Open the doors of the church and offer “spaces of grace” where the veteran and family feel safe to share their feelings and needs.
- Time – A commitment in time becomes critical. Recently, I heard of a church member becoming involved with a veteran who was emotionally and spiritually struggling. The church member would drive an hour across town to take the veteran to his church, and then following services, he would take him to lunch, then back home. He did this for over a year. During the course of this year, the veteran experienced the commitment of this church member and the love and acceptance of the congregation. This veteran now feels acceptance and exhibits a spirit of hope.
As a community of faith, should we not invite and welcome strangers into our midst? Should we not be about creating space for our veterans and their families? When we create space we have an opportunity to touch the lives of our veterans in an intimate and sacred way.
Next week, we will discuss the fifth and last response of the faith community in assisting the veteran, to make meaning. Until then, thank you for the conversation…