When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son. “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go. (1 Kings 2:1-3)
This Memorial Day, like I do any Memorial and Veteran’s Day, I take time to think and reflect on the sacrifices that so many have made over the two and a half centuries our nation has existed. I think about the freedoms and the luxuries that I, and my family, now enjoy because of what those brave men and women have done, and still continue to do, and I am very humbled.
I am humbled to be in a nation of such brave heroes. I am humbled to have such heroes in my family, both in generations past, as well as in my own generation with two cousins and a brother-in-law that have honorably served in the armed forces. But mostly I am humbled because I myself have not had to give or sacrifice nearly so much for the freedom that I enjoy.
Inevitably my admiration for those that have served our country turns into personal guilt. I feel guilty because I haven’t even lifted a finger to serve my country (I did recently answer the call of Jury duty, but I guess that’s not exactly the same thing).
I have never stood across an open field of battle staring down the barrels of the Red Coats. I have never suffered through the bitter cold of Valley Forge. I have never bravely fought amid a hail of bullets in Gettysburg. I have never huddled in the muck of the trenches, waiting for the order to go over the top to almost certain death. I have never stood in the landing craft on stormy waters, bomb shells exploding over me, waiting for the ramp to go down, to storm onto Omaha Beach. I have never jumped out of the helicopter into the jungles of Vietnam, knowing the enemy waiting in the brush outnumbers us 10 to 1. I have never had to endure the insufferable heat of Iraq or Afghanistan knowing that any moment an enemy sniper could take me out. I have never once put my life on the line for the sake of my family, or my country.
Having not done anything like that, when there are so many who have, can I even call myself a man?
There was a time that I thought about going into the military. In high school I toyed with the notion of going to the US Air Force Academy with the goal of becoming a fighter pilot. I eventually gave up that idea, for three reasons: (1) I was pretty sure my 6 foot 5 inches physique exceeded the maximum height limit for fighter pilots (2) Residing overseas as a missionary kid, and not being a resident of any particular state, made the likelihood of getting the necessary Congressional nominations to gain admittance to the Academy seemed slim (3) I completely despised running, as well as most other forms of physical exertion, which I had a pretty strong feeling would be a big part of training in just about any branch of the armed forces. While that last reason may sound kind of lame and wimpy, to be fair I’m pretty sure that if my chances of getting into the pilot seat of an F-22 were not seriously hampered by the first two reasons, I probably would have been willing to suck it up and get myself in better physical shape.
But even if things had worked out for me to become an Air Force fighter pilot, my primary reason for doing so would have been more for the sex appeal of flying a machine that is 500% pure power at 2 times the speed of sound while wearing really awesome looking gear. Not exactly a prime example of selflessness and sacrifice.
Should I feel guilty that I did not sign up for the ultimate sacrifice? Does it mean that I don’t love my country? Do I bring shame and dishonor to those that have given everything for the sake of liberty?
Maybe it is incredibly self-centered of me to take a day like Memorial Day, a day to remember the brave and the fallen, and to turn in back in on myself. Maybe I’m the only civilian man who even thinks about these things.
But I have two little boys who are going to look to me as their prime example of what it means to be a man. I am about to have a little girl who will look to me as her prime example of what she should be looking for in the man that she marries. I am under no small amount of pressure here to do my absolute best to get this “man” thing right.
Do I have to go to war to call myself a man? Am I a coward if I haven’t gone to war?
Perhaps I could give myself a pass because right now our nation is not desperate for soldiers. Yes, we are at war, but the war is not at such a scale that they desperately need more men to take up arms. We are certainly not in the same boat we were in World War II, when literally every abled bodied man was needed to stand up to the might of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. I’d like to think that if our nation ever were in such dire need of soldiers to fight for the cause of freedom, then I would be willing to stand up and do what needed to be done. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t be a coward. But given that we are not in that situation, I can’t help but feel that my specific gifts and abilities are better used off the battle field.
I also think about my family. Had I signed up to go to war, my life would have turned out very different. I only have my family today because I went to a certain college, that got me just the right internship, that got me just the right job, in just the right town, at just the right time for me to meet my wife. If any one of those pieces did not happen in just the right way I probably wouldn’t have my beautiful wife. We probably wouldn’t have our two (soon to be three) beautiful children. Had I signed up for the military right out of High School chances are I would have ended up in Iraq. If I had even survived it I never would have followed the path outlined above, and my family as it exists today likely never would have existed. Could it be possible that God didn’t want me to go to war? Could it be possible that I was meant to be here to raise this family? Could it be possible that God wants me right here, where I am, so that I can shine the light of Jesus Christ where I am?
Maybe it is just me trying to rationalize my life choices, and alleviate my feelings of guilt, but I can’t help but feel the answer is yes.
As I look back over my life the last decade, since I graduated high school, I see what I can’t help but believe is a series of God moments. While at each of those moments I was too distracted to see it happening, in hindsight I see that God has been guiding me each step of the way leading me to where I am right now. I don’t think I’ve reached my final destination yet, but I think I’m right where God wants me to be. For whatever reason, I don’t think God wants me on a foreign battle field. Not that God doesn’t call some for such a noble purpose, but he just hasn’t called me, and that’s okay, isn’t it?
I guess my guilt stems from one question, what does it mean to be a man? Must a man walk through the muck and the blood and the sweat of war to truly call himself a man? Must a man have to lay his life on the line to call himself a true man?
I believe a true man is capable of all those things, but that is not what makes him a man. Courage on the battlefield proves his metal as a man, but it is not what makes him a man. His manhood is not about what he has done, but about who he is in his heart. King David, a man whom God Himself called a “Man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) tells his son what being a man of God is truly about: “So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands.”
A true man is a man who is obedient to God. God calls everyone to something. Some he calls to be soldiers, and that should most certainly be revered and respected. But some He calls to be pastors, doctors, nurses, police officers, fire fighters, small business owners, and so much more. Me personally, he’s called me to be a husband, a father, and an engineer. But no matter what he calls us to do specifically, we are all called to do it to the Glory of God. We are called to live for Christ, whether that is in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Ohio.
Of course this revelation may alleviate some of my guilt for not signing up to serve in the military, but it doesn’t exactly give me a free pass. The bar for true Godly manhood is set pretty high. All one has to do is walk in obedience to God, that sounds pretty simple right? But what sounds simple in principle, is almost always more difficult in practice. Why else would Jesus say that “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:14) Every day I find myself facing the conviction of elements of my life that are not in complete obedience to God, and what I do about that is what proves my true metal as a man. I may not be on a battlefield of earthly war, but I am definitely on a battlefield of spiritual war, and I pray that Christ will give me the strength to be victorious.
So this Memorial Day I’ll try to not feel guilty for not going to war. Instead I will try to do my best to honor those that have by being the best man that I can be. I will take the freedom that they have sacrificed so much for my sake and use it to embody what it means to be a true man. I will resolve to follow God in complete obedience to Him. I will resolve to be the most devoted and loving husband I can possibly be. I will resolve to be the best father that I can be to my children. I will resolve to live for Christ in all that I say and do. I will resolve to do all that I do for the Glory of God, and to honor the memory of those that have served, and died, so that I could.
To those of you that have served, or continue to serve, I salute you, for whatever worth a salute from a civilian man is. I may not have walked the road you walked, or made the sacrifices you made, but know that I am grateful for all that you have done for me, and for our country, and I will do the very best that I can to be worthy of such noble sacrifice.
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