Many of us enjoy reminiscing at year’s end, and columnists are no different.
For that reason, and because I, too, am trying to wrangle some family time at Christmas, I’ve reflected on the three most important spiritual lessons I learned during my deployment at Air Force Field Hospital in Balad Iraq earlier this year.
Pray for everyone, even your enemies
I struggled with the literalness of Jesus’ command as I was asked to pray for the surgeries in two operating rooms. One surgery was for a soldier who would die, and the other surgery was for the insurgent that had likely caused this carnage. The insurgent received the best medical care possible from the same people who were grieving the loss of a fellow service member.
Jesus summed it all up in the Sermon on the Mount: “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy’?
“I’m challenging that,” Jesus flatly stated. “I’m telling you to love your enemies. . . . If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.” (The Message, Matthew 43-44a, 47)
Our trauma team didn’t settle for run-of-the-mill.
And just so you know, neither did the fellow soldiers of the soldier who died; they were the ones who skillfully applied the life-saving tourniquet to the enemy combatant.
Forgiveness is for all, expecially ourselves
When a wounded squad arrived in our emergency room blown apart by an IED, there was a wounded medic who was tearfully asking whether she had done everything possible to save her battle buddy, an expectant father. He had pled with her to save him, even as he bled to death.
In a nearby bed, the other squad member taught me that forgiveness was for everyone when he asked me to “pray for the insurgents that did this.”
“What should I pray?” I asked dumbfounded.
The soldier responded by telling me to pray the prayer that Jesus prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
If he can forgive the insurgent, how cannot I forgive my fellow man of his most common failures?
All we have is this moment
I learned this best on our way home from Iraq when we attempted a landing in Baltimore. The landing was aborted because of a blown tire, and the inside of the plane was a wreck.
As we circled for another attempt, we assumed the crash position. I thought I should pray, but what should I pray? I felt tested. Should I pray for myself? For others?
I hoped this prayer test was only a quiz, not the cumulative final exam.
I bowed and felt a presence waiting for me to speak, a presence that I already knew in my heart.
“Thank you for this life,” I prayed. “Thank you for my wife and family.”
A moment spun through my head. I didn’t feel like I’d been a great dad. The times I’d been absent — physically and spiritually — went through my head.
The lacking suddenly made me feel like I was being weighed on a scale in a spiritual assay office. The assayer was squinting through his one-piece eyeglass at the life I had put down.
I glanced up wondering whether my prayer was too selfish. “God, what about all these people?”
A soldier was about to meet his new son for the first time. An airman was trying to make a marriage work again. They all wanted another chance.
But alas, the only chance we have is the now, not the future. May God grant us all the courage to make that chance count this New Year.