For Christians, Lent is the serious and penitential season leading up to Easter. It is six weeks of humbling yourself by fasting from certain foods, sacrificing some of the pleasures of life, and asking for forgiveness. “What are you giving up for Lent?” That’s a common question among Christians this week. Typically, people give up a bad habit (like TV or Facebook) or a treat they enjoy regularly (like dessert or coffee). The idea is to choose a sacrifice that makes you “die to self” so that you will have more room for love and forgiveness in your life. Then Easter will be a true celebration of new life.
But sacrifices, by definition, are not easy.
When I started thinking about what to give up for Lent this year, I realized all the things that military spouses already give up. Military spouses have to “die to self” all the time to serve the needs of the military. We make these sacrifices year after year, without much of a choice.
The sacrifices of military spouse life
- living far from family
- not knowing where you will live
- giving up career opportunities
- sleeping alone a lot
- giving birth alone
- parenting alone
- missing birthdays and anniversaries with your spouse
- missing weddings and funerals back home
- saying goodbye to too many friends
- living on a small paycheck
- going for weeks or months without seeing your spouse
- fighting fear and anxiety during combat deployments
- putting your own goals and dreams on hold
The list could go on and on. Every military spouse knows the pain and struggle of sacrifice. Sometimes it is the daily sacrifice of taking care of a house and kids alone. Some military spouses know the ultimate sacrifice of losing your spouse in service to the country. We all sacrifice something. Some of us sacrifice everything.
Three ways military spouses handle sacrifices
The purpose of sacrifice, however, is not to be miserable. If Lent teaches us anything, it is that sacrifice can lead to joy and celebration. There is some real food for thought–sacrifices can be joyful!
Every military spouse handles their sacrifices in their own way. In a typical military spouse community, there are three different ways that military spouses handle the struggles and daily inconveniences of military life.
- Whining: Some military spouses are very vocal about every inconvenience they suffer. These are the people who are never happy, who find fault with every duty station, and who sometimes blame the service member for putting them through so many challenging situations. Be careful around such toxic personalities, because their negativity is contagious, and they can drag you down with them.
- Silence: Other military spouses keep their head down and plod quietly forward. These can seem like good friends because they bear all suffering with quiet strength. They don’t complain often because they have accepted that inconvenience is a normal part of military life. This attitude is only half right. Yes, we all have to “die to self” a little when we marry a service member. But that doesn’t mean we need to act like we are walking around half dead! This response is okay for short time periods like during deployment. But on the long term, it becomes exhausting. No one can carry around all their burdens without complaint. When you meet these personalities, reach out and befriend them. They probably need some help, but they may not ask for it. Whether you make them a meal, meet them for coffee, or watch their children one morning, you could lift a huge weight off this person’s shoulders and let them take a deep breath.
- Laughing: Finally, some military spouses approach sacrifices with a sense of humor. They know that military life will have curveballs and setbacks. When these happen, they try to shrug it off and laugh. When Muphy’s Law strikes during deployment and everything seems to go wrong, they see how ridiculous the situation is. They take a picture, take a deep breath, and then handle it. Later, they will share the picture on social media and laugh about it. This brave attitude about sacrifice will last for a long time–an entire military career, if necessary. These spouses know that a sacrifice shared is a burden lifted.
What is the purpose of sacrifice?
During Lent, the purpose of sacrifice is to prepare your mind, body, and heart for Easter. The sacrifices make room for joyful celebrating. In military life, we can use our sacrifices the same way. Every time we learn to handle a new challenge, we become stronger and more independent. Every sacrifice we make for our spouse can strengthen the bond between us and teach us more about love. Anyone can give up meat and chocolate for Lent, just as any military spouse can eventually make it through a deployment or a horrible duty station. But it is our attitude toward the sacrifice that determines how joyful we will be at the end. When my spouse finishes his military career, I want to look back with pride at all that we went through together. Instead of complaining or quietly suffering through military life, I want to celebrate every crazy challenge that come long. This Lent, I will choose joy.
What about you? What sacrifices are hardest for you to handle in military life?