by Carol Vandesteeg
Many people feel emptiness or gaps in their lives when their families are separated or are in uncertain circumstances. That empty feeling can be turned into something positive.
“. . . Times of separation are not a total loss, nor are they completely unprofitable for our companionship. . . In spite of all the difficulties they bring, they can be a wonderful means of strengthening and deepening fellowship. . . We must commit our loved ones wholly and unreservedly to God and leave them in his hands, transforming our anxiety for them into prayers on their behalf” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Tegel Prison, Berlin, Christmas Eve, 1944).1
The emptiness you feel when your spouse is gone can become a reminder to pray. Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and Swiss psychiatrist, maintains that one can face any crisis if the person grasps some meaning or purpose in it.2 Many couples find meaning or purpose during times of separation by thinking more deeply about their spiritual lives, individually and on the family level.
Being separated from the ones they love may make people think about what life would be like if the spouse didn’t come back, especially if the spouse is in harm’s way. The complete lack of control over the situation produces feelings of anxiety. David Paap says that “The only practical escape from this vicious cycle of anxiety is a spiritual one: trust in God. . . . Faith and trust differ from human optimism or self-confidence in that they are not the result of human effort or reliance upon anything within ourselves.”3 Paap is convinced that faith is the most important factor that determines how a family facing the crisis of deployment or war will deal with its members’ fears.
People often turn to God during crisis. In the media coverage during recent missions, there were constant public references to prayer and looking to God for help. Faith gives people the hope and courage they need to get through trials. The realization that you have no control over your circumstances may draw you to God for the first time, or possibly back to God. “The power is in the Person to whom faith clings. . . . The great things that come about through crisis are not the result of ‘great faith’ but of faith, even a small and flickering faith, in the greatness of God’s love and mercy in Jesus Christ.”4
Each morning, whether you’re separated from a family member or not, you may find it helpful to begin the day looking to God for guidance and strength for the day. The military lifestyle gives you unique opportunities to experience the peace and grace of God during hard times. Chaplain Stan Beach said, “When my situation can’t be changed, I can work at learning and implementing productive responses that will honor the Lord.”5 Denise McColl said, “A good friend once told me, ‘Pray as if everything depended on God; work as if everything depended on you!’ Applying this concept works wonders during deployment!”6 Sue Roberts advises separated families to “not pray for an easy life; pray to be a strong person.”7
Admiral Grady Jackson said, “In many ways I’ve never been closer spiritually to my family than when I’ve been away from them for extended periods, because those are the times I fully put them into the Lord’s hands. When we move out in the job that the Lord has called us to do, He will take care of our families, especially if His call requires separation.”8
Worry about the family back home is one of the greatest concerns military service members face, but many families find that sharing in letters how faith is active in their lives helps ease that concern. Finding things to thank God for helps keep attitudes positive.
Remember that God is with you anywhere you go, even in the most isolated place the military may send you. When you’re away from your family, it’s easy to feel like you aren’t accountable to them; separation may offer temptations that would threaten your relationship with your spouse and that are hard to resist. Statistics tell us that many marriages break down during times of separation because of the temptation to be unfaithful. One Marine who recognized that danger and wanted to protect himself from temptation developed his own set of guidelines to follow whenever he is away from his wife.
You may want to write a set of guidelines for yourself. The important issue is to face the fact that temptation and unfaithfulness will likely be present whether you are the deployed husband or the wife at home, and you can help yourself resist if you have a plan to stay committed to your spouse. Christians are not exempt from challenges to marriage and should assume that they, too, will be tempted.
God will not be overcome by the challenges or temptations we face, so if we turn to Him, we can feel safer, too. His representatives, the chaplains or ministers we look to for guidance, remind us that we don’t have to be afraid, and they help us direct our attention to God.
When you feel overwhelmed, turn to the Lord Himself. As you cultivate your relationship with God and feel the encouragement of your chapel or place of worship, you will be more equipped to deal with separation. “I encourage you to lean on someone during this deployment. I have been going to the Darmstadt International Baptist Church, and during this time in my life when I could be feeling absolutely alone in the world, I have been overwhelmed with a sense of support and love from my church family.”9
With the support of others and your sense of God’s strength within, you will be able to identify with the apostle Paul when he said, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. . .” (NKJV, 2 Cor. 4:8-9). In addition to the strength and help you draw from your personal faith, your chapel or place of worship may offer a support group for encouragement.
Military chaplains experience deployment and family separation too, and know what you’re feeling. The chaplaincy was the second-most deployed career field in the Air Force in recent years. Who could be better equipped to help you through tough times? God and His representatives stand ready to meet your needs.
1 USAF Chaplain Service Institute, Link, 29.
2 Beach, “Enduring and Prospering in Your Military Calling,” 5.
3 Paap, 29.
4 Ibid, 82.
5 Beach, Captain Stan J., Chaplain, U.S. Navy (Retired). “Praise the Lord Anyway.” COMMAND (Fall 1989) Vol. 38, No. 3: 3.
6 McColl, Denise. “Making the Most of Deployments: A Wife’s Perspective.” COMMAND, (Fall 1989) Vol. 38, No. 3: 12.
7 Roberts, 45.
8 Jackson, Admiral Grady. “President’s Letter.” COMMAND (Fall 1989) Vol. 38, No. 3: 1.
9 Modawell, Jelaine. “Look to God.” The Stars and Stripes, European Edition, 26 January 1996: 20.
Carol Vandesteeg and her husband, Ren, are long time active members of OCF and reside in Universal City, TX, where Ren is a chaplain. They have two grown sons.
We thank Cook Communications Ministries for allowing us to reprint this article from Carol Vandesteeg’s book When Duty Calls. The book is a complete guide to military separations and we highly recommend it.
When Duty Calls can be ordered direct from Cook Communications Ministries, toll-free at 1-877-421-7323, online at www.cookministries.com,, or from most online and local book stores.