QUESTION: I just returned after a tour of duty in Iraq. I have to say the experience took its toll on me, mentally and physically. I want to leave all of that behind, but when I get together with family and friends, they want to hear “war stories.” Believe me, there are many of them, but each time I do tell some of the things that happened, I’m emotionally reliving them and I just plain don’t want to. Once, in exasperation, I practically shouted, “Just leave me alone! I don’t want to talk about it.” Now I feel I shouldn’t have
reacted that way.
I’m a Christian, and I pray that God helps me return to just being a normal person. I am seeing a therapist. I think my question is what can I say to these curious people to help them understand how I feel? I truly love them, and don’t want to alienate them.
Dear Exhausted Soldier,
You are to be commended for so many things here – your sacrifice for our country, your faith and desire to live out that faith, your humility to reach out to get help with this situation, and your love for your family and friends. I can certainly understand that there might be things about your experience in Iraq that you don’t want to share. I have an uncle who served in Korea and my father-in-law served in Vietnam and they are also uncomfortable talking about it. Unfortunately, many of us are well meaning yet insensitive to our veterans who return home.
Perhaps something the apostle Paul wrote to Christians in Ephesians 4:15 will help… “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him [Christ].” We grow when someone else has the courage to speak to us honestly and they do it with love.
Here’s what I might do if I was you. Initiate a conversation with your family and close friends and share how you feel with each of them, individually or as a group. Tell them you appreciate their support and briefly explain that you are uncomfortable talking about your war experiences because they are so painful. If you also mentioned you were seeing a therapist that might help them not worry about you unnecessarily. Then they can even help you with other people might ask you awkward questions.
I would also plan what you will say when you get those unwanted questions so you will be prepared to answer calmly and clearly without getting frustrated. Again, I would tell them you appreciate their concern for you but that your experience in Iraq was personal and painful in some ways you would rather not discuss. If you feel it is appropriate, you could also ask them to pray for you and other veterans who have returned home.
Please feel free to contact me if you think I might be able to help you more with this situation. I will pray for you!
Reese Neyland, Minister
Lifeway Church in Glendale
Dear Exhausted Soldier,
First let me say thank you for your service, your courage and bravery. I cannot even imagine the things you experienced and saw and yes, of course, it takes a toll on your psyche. It’s an experience few of us share or will ever live through and I don’t think anyone can truly understand what it’s like without being there. I believe when people inquire about your experiences they are genuinely curious about what that was like. It seems to me what’s needed here is to establish relationships based on honesty and empathy which fulfill everyone’s needs. In your friends’ and family’s inquiry try to hear a desire to know you better. They will never travel your road. They care about what you have lived through even if it comes across as wanting to hear glamorized “war stories.” Give yourself empathy first. Listen to your need in the moment as to know how to respond. Be honest. Possibly some days you simply say, “It’s too painful to relive those experiences. If you don’t mind I’d rather not talk about it.” Your family and friends want to know this and need to know that war is not glamorous. On another day you may ask for what you are needing in that moment which may be for someone to simply listen to how much you want to leave that time behind you.
When we first empathize with ourselves, hear our own need, we often experience in just a few seconds a natural release of energy that allows us to be present to the other person. This way you won’t alienate others and you create relationships that are based in authenticity, giving them the opportunity to empathize with you and to show their love and respect.
I would like to strongly recommend a book to you called “Nonviolent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg which has changed people’s lives. “What we all want in life is compassion,” says Rosenberg, “a flow between ourselves and others based on mutual giving from the heart.” This is your opportunity to give and receive something of great value when you share what’s in your own heart. It’s my guess that you will open minds and deepen connection and ultimately find peace within yourself, and that is being in alignment with the Christ of unconditional love.
Spiritual Guide and Scalar Heart Practitioner
QUESTION: When you see someone being extremely rude in public, should you speak up? I was waiting to be checked out at a local grocery. There were several of us in line including a teenage girl. She just had a few items and was in the middle of a line of about six or seven other people. A large man with a full basket of groceries literally pushed his way in front of her. All of us, including the checker, were looking at each other with dismayed looks on our faces, but no one said anything. The girl looked like she was afraid to say anything.
When I got to the front of the line I asked the checker why she didn’t say something or call the manager. She said people are so volatile these days that she’s afraid to, adding, “What if he returned with a gun?”
I’d like some guidance in case I’m in a situation like this again. I hope I’m a – Temporary Coward
Dear Temporary Coward,
When it’s time to speak up, you must. How you do it, though, makes all the difference. Justice may demand that we make a stir, but God says to do so with elegance (1Pe 2:17; 3:15). It vexes me when people brush past without saying “Excuse me,” or hover over me at the post office rather than waiting behind the rope, and it really gets me when foreigners push into line and expect me to smile approvingly. Ahhh!
Here’s something: One old gal cut in line, and when I tried to “kindly” educate her, a companion scowled at me as though I should know that immigrant ignorami get a pass at failing American propriety. He was mildly correct. She shouldn’t be rude, but I shouldn’t be too perturbed because I live in a land of perpetual immigrants. Heck, I wonder how my own granddad performed when he arrived here. And what of those eating lunch nearby with grotesque chomping and mouths open? We’re disgusted, and they’re thinking everything’s copacetic! Americans are raised with certain manners. I learned not to put my elbows on the table, and to give people adequate space, and to be courteous; say, “Pardon me,” and hold the door for women.
The Bible says, “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom 12:18). So, that has become my approach. Okay, if some ill-cultured doofus is going to burp in my face, cut me off, hover over my shoulder or act in otherwise un-American ways, I’ll have to suck it up a bit, but I don’t feel it overreaching or rude to apprise said klutz that he/she is acting inappropriately. Maybe I’m showing my age, but I have no spiritual qualms about tutoring new arrivals, or the classless, concerning the ways of our land (even when they’re from here). America does have traditions and unique culture, despite what outsiders may think. It’s our American duty to uphold the best of our society, but it’s also our Christian duty not to uphold anything at the cost of misrepresenting the God under whom our nation thrives and pledges allegiance.
Rev. Bryan Griem
Dear Temporary Coward,
In this day and age I find that people do not speak up. On the other hand, I do know that in the grocery business the customer is always right, and the checker could have been reprimanded by her manager. This happened to a client I used to have. So while in this instance the checker couldn’t say anything, it does not mean you couldn’t.
I tend to make situational judgments in a case like this. Sometimes people are rude for a reason: medical illness, mental disorder, or senility, for example. In this case, I would have comforted the girl. If the man you speak of seemed lucid (meaning not aggressive, dangerous, mentally off or perhaps senile) I might have said something kindly, but matter of factly, to him. An example could be, “Sir, excuse me. You just cut in front of this young lady here.” For individuals who seem like candidates for “knowing better” I do kindly call them out if it’s appropriate.
I think you have every right if it is a situation when someone else is being offended or hurt. And I believe your question is courageous. Because you care.
Kimberlie Zakarian, MS, MFT