These are crazy and stressful times when COVID-19 is spreading throughout our country and people in many states are ordered to stay at home. I know military families who are dealing with the devastating frustration of extended deployments, uncertain PCS orders, or facing the potential of paying two mortgages at once while waiting for permission to move. I want to send out all the virtual support and hugs I can during this time, and I wish there was more I could do to help calm the anxiety and get everyone through this.
My family has already been sheltering at home for 3 weeks now. I’m “homeschooling” 4 of our 5 children, and only going out once a week to get food. I’m incredibly lucky to have my husband home with me for a while, until he is told to go back to work at his Navy base. As I write this, it is Palm Sunday, which is the beginning of Holy Week for Christians. It’s the holiest week of the Church year, and a time when we would typically be together with our faith community. This will be the first year ever that I will not attend Palm Sunday or Easter services.
As strange as the current environment is, I have felt a certain calm in the midst of all this storm. In a way, this all feels familiar to me. I have never been through a pandemic before. But I have been through numerous stressful situations as a military wife: I received the phone call that my husband was wounded in combat in Iraq. (He recovered). I gave birth to our 3rd child alone while he was deployed to Afghanistan. We moved our family of six in just ten days when we received short-notice PCS orders. Military life has forced me into these stressful situations. Each time, even though I struggled, I also learned. I now know how to adapt to difficulties and how to find my inner strength when a situation feels impossible. As a Christian military spouse, it feels like I have been given a unique set of strengths to handle the stress and unpredictability of this pandemic.
When I look back at all the crazy stressful situations we have been through, I realize that–in most cases–faith made things a little bit easier. Because I am a Christian military spouse, there are many times when my faith life has overlapped with my military spouse life. Both are a huge part of my identity. I think that it would be very hard for me to survive military life if I did not have faith to hold me together. So now in this time of pandemic, I’m relying on all the skills I have learned as a Christian and as a military spouse to get me through this.
Five lessons a Christian military spouse knows:
1. Religion is always a community:
Right now, churches are closed, but that doesn’t mean the connections go away. No matter what faith you practice, it is usually celebrated with others. This community can be a huge blessing to Christian military spouses when they arrive at a new duty station. If you stop by the local church or prayer group, you may immediately be invited to a few events and find yourself some new friends. Catholics have an added bonus–they can find a Catholic church anywhere in the world, and it will celebrate the same Mass they recognize from home. This was useful when we lived in Europe. I have attended church in several different languages, but I always knew what was happening and felt like part of the community.
So even though you can’t attend services right now, stay connected with your faith community online. Watch a streaming prayer service, join an online Bible Study, or just join your heart in prayer with the million of other Christians around the world who are currently praying for an end to this pandemic.
2. Patience is a virtue:
Everyone is going a little stir-crazy being stuck at home and wondering how long this will last. There are so many questions without answers, and I truly feel for those struggling with questions about deployments, PCS moves, and employment. Military life will certainly teach you to be patient! Military spouses have an advantage here: they have learned to be more patient, generous with their time, and to have empathy for others. Military life has taught me a lot about trust and letting go, as we wait for orders and clean out the house for yet another PCS move. Christian military spouses learn to take those challenging moments and learn from them to become a better person.
So use this unknown length of isolation time to invest in yourself and your family relationships. The same skills you use to keep busy and take care of yourself during deployment are the same skills that will help you stay sane during social distancing.
3. Trust makes sense of suffering:
I heard this at church recently in regards to the suffering of Christ on the cross. I realized it is also true for the stress and anxiety surrounding deployments… and for dealing with the burdens of COVID-19 restrictions. There is physical and mental anguish when you are separated from your loved one and don’t know when you will hear from them or if they are okay. The only thing that can make this burden lighter is trust. I can trust that he is well trained and prepared for war. I can trust in his team and his unit. I must have faith in his commanders and trust that they will give good orders. I have to trust that he is safe and that I will see him again. Faith is the only thing that makes sense out of the suffering of deployments for a Christian military spouse.
During this time of isolation, I stay calm by placing trust in our medical workers. The entire medical community is doing their best to fight this thing. I’m not on the front lines, but I can have faith in their training and abilities and hold on to the positive hope that we will eventually come through this.Want to know which bible verses are most encouraging during deployments? I have two pages of quotes in my Ultimate Deployment Guide, available here.
4. We are in the world, not of it:
In the Bible, Christians are reminded that even though they live in the world, they are not made for this earthly life. They are made for heaven. That is part of the reason Christians are encouraged not to focus on earthly treasure, titles, fame, and glory–they are only passing through this world, and those things won’t be important in heaven. Christian military spouses can relate to this. Whenever you move to a new base, you may live in the town, but you know that you are not from the town. In fact, you will probably leave it behind in a few years. We learn not to invest in souvenirs that can be easily broken during a move. Military spouses know from experience that people are worth more than things. This is one of Christianity’s tougher lessons, but military spouses learn it automatically after a few PCS moves.
This lesson is important during the pandemic, too. The daily death toll is a reminder that everyone faces death. Constant reminders of mortality can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. But instead of stressing about a disease we can’t control, it’s better to remember that all of our lives are temporary. The important thing is not the length of your life, but to make the most of the life and the relationships you have.
5. Offer it up:
The pandemic restrictions are asking people to sacrifice a lot. Staying at home and canceling all activities is difficult. Losing jobs and income is even harder. Many people are missing out on weddings, funerals, vacations, and family visits. It isn’t easy. It doesn’t seem fair. As we mourn all the events we are missing, it’s natural to wonder if all this suffering is worth it.
As kids, any time we complained about being uncomfortable or things not being fair, our Christian parents told us to ‘offer it up.’ This is a way of encouraging someone to offer up their sufferings as a way to gain empathy or relieve the sufferings of others. In military life, we say ‘Suck it up, buttercup’ or ‘put on your big girl panties.’ The principle is the same, but the Christian version offers a reason for the suffering. Our sacrifices can be useful to help others. If you have a horrible experience getting settled on a new base, don’t just suck it up. Try to offer it up to others–ask around for advice, offer to help other new families as a sponsor, or write a book with tips for moving to that installation. (That’s what I did for Naval Station Rota, Spain!) Our sacrifices are much easier to bear when we offer them up for others in our military community. During this pandemic, we know that every day we stay home, we are stopping the spread of Coronavirus to the vulnerable parts of the population. We are saving the elderly, the immuno-compromised, and children with asthma. Our sacrifices are for the greater good, so we can offer them up with courage.
This time of social distancing which falls during Holy Week and Easter season is a great time to see these principles at work in your life. No matter what uncertainty and challenges are thrown at you, your trials may seem easier when you approach them with faith. I am here for you through all of this, and I remind you that even if you are sheltering alone, WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER! Stay strong, and lean on your faith and your community to get you through this time.