I spent more than three decades serving men and women in the U.S. Armed Services as an Army chaplain. It’s an incredibly unique role in the military—being a spiritual guide to those who might face trauma, death, and devastation in their day-to-day “job” as selfless protectors of the freedom of our nation. I witnessed time and time again how, when Christmas comes around, the trials of Military life can be particularly profound.
This isn’t an entirely unique circumstance. Many families face amplified feelings of loss and separation amid family-oriented holidays. However, holiday separations are a consistent aspect of the military journey. For example, about one-third of the active-duty military members are either stationed or deployed outside the United States. That means that this Christmas, thousands of daughters and sons, fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, who are serving in the military will miss the chance to sit at a dinner table with their parents, kids, and other family members. While these men and women are so resilient, I don’t want to miss the fact that being away during these special moments is one of the many sacrifices made.
In a way, 2020 has given us all a taste of the challenges military families face. The fear that a parent might die, the separation from extended family—it’s been a painful reality for so many Americans. For everyone, really, so much of what we thought we could rely on turned out to be shallow in our most significant time of need. How do military families cope? How might we all manage?
We’ve completed research at the American Bible Society, which shows that those who turn to the Bible in times of trauma can cope better than those who do not. We now know that frequency of Bible reading makes a real difference. In other words, those individuals in perpetual engagement with the Bible can cope and recover more successfully from trauma. They also tend to be more satisfied in life overall—not to mention more empathetic and caring towards others. Additionally, in the research we completed that looked at how individuals’ sense of overall wellbeing changed amid the pandemic (January 2020 versus June 2020), those respondents who read the Bible remained steadier in maintaining community and feeling satisfied and secure.
It’s why the American Bible Society has been providing Bibles to the U.S. Military for over 200 years. In 2020 and beyond, we will continue to expand on the Bible-based resources we provide to troops, chaplains, Veterans, and their families. In partnership with our Trauma Healing Institute, we’re creating resources for all of these groups, explicitly tailored to their unique experiences.
While I know the holiday season can feel taxing, complicated, and even just plain sad for many of us, I hope each individual could see that they are not alone. Christmas’s original and longstanding gift was the Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” Second of all, there is a community of thousands of others who are going through similar circumstances. I know many of us have felt the loss of the community of Bible study groups and in-person church gatherings, but utilizing available resources can help you navigate these difficult circumstances. The Bible is so full of joy, but it is also full of stories of people who faced great hardships and full of tools for navigating grief and loneliness. I invite troops, Veterans, and those with loved ones in the military to visit our Armed Services Ministry website to find a program or other resources that are right for you.
If you’re reading this as an active duty member of the military, I encourage you to connect with your chaplain, who wants the best for you and has access to resources designed specifically for you.
To the rest of us— I get asked often by civilians what they can do to support our military that will really make an impact. You can pray— for hope, healing, and restoration to any areas where there’s been loss or hardship for military members and their families. You can also invest in organizations working to provide biblical resources and establish best-practices for faith-based trauma healing. As we enter this time of joyful celebration, let’s do it arm-in-arm with the wonderful men and women who protect our freedom to do so.
A special thank you to retired Army Colonel Gordon Groseclose for his service and report. Groseclose served as U.S. Army Chaplain for 32 years before partnering with the American Bible Society’s Armed Services Ministry to develop Scripture resources for military members, Veterans, and their families.