Treating Combat Fatigue

Christians are soldiers (2 Timothy 2:4); they fight ongoing battles (Ephesians 6:12; 1 Timothy 1:19; 6:11,12; 2 Timothy 4:7; 2 Corinthians 10:4) in a spiritual war (Revelation 12:17). Battles inevitably produce casualties — lots of them, and casualties require medical (Matthew 9:12) attention.
The church — not the building, is a sort of front line M.A.S.H. unit — a Divine trauma center. Padded pews serve as medical stretchers for the injured. Services house the wounded and hurting. Assemblies offer temporary shelter and protection to traumatized infantrymen. They suffer from the effects of divorce, sexual promiscuity, envy, addiction, hostility, stress, conflict, abandonment, lost love, guilt, hopelessness, infidelity, jealousy, selfishness, etc. Their hearts have been scarred from injuries received while engaged in fierce warfare with the enemy — Satan (Revelation 12:10; 1 Peter 5:8; John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2).
Wounded souls are usually not too difficult to spot in the ranks of the congregation. You can often see hurt in the eyes; you can hear it in broken voices. Pale expressions. Fallen spirits. Blank stares. Furrowed brows. Tears. Internal battle scars tend to surface in the countenance. While these soldier’s bodies still function, their minds have ceased to do so. Thinking is much too painful. Memory is a plague. Sleep is restless and fitful. Blow after blow have taken their terrible toll. Emotional stress-fractures are the tell-tale symptoms of the cumulative assaults on the spirit.
GIs call it “combat fatigue”; the Biblical term is “weariness” (Galatians 6:9 NKJV). Author John C. McManus wrote:
“Sometimes the wounds a man received were not physical but mental. For some the stress of combat became too much and they could no longer function. This condition, called shell shock in World War I, and combat fatigue or exhaustion in World War II, was fairly common among U.S. combat soldiers. Although there were those who thought of battle fatigue as cowardice, Gen. George Patton being the most notable of this group, it became obvious during the war that this was patently false. According to one study, it could safely be expected that close to 10 percent of the men in an infantry outfit would eventually become combat fatigue casualties…(John C. McManus, “The World of the Combat Soldier,” The Deadly Brotherhood, 162).
“He is not a coward. The last thing in the world he wants hung on him is cowardice. He starts a personal war within himself, his conscience on one side and his instinct for self preservation on the other. His physical fatigue carries a lot of weight in the argument. The tug-of-war in his mind gets worse and worse. He starts trembling so bad [sic] he can’t hold his rifle. He doesn’t want to shake but he does, and that solves his problem. Involuntarily he becomes physically incapable. Properly treated he’ll be okay in a few days-when he’s had SOME HOT CHOW, A FEW NIGHTS OF SLEEP and A CHANCE TO GET HIS TROUBLE OFF HIS CHEST” (Ibid, 163; emphasis mine-mb).
“This disabling condition usually strikes after a soldier has been subjected to long and severe shelling or enemy small arms fire. A soldier reaches the point of ‘I can’t take it anymore…’…This condition is just as much a combat wound as a piece of shell piercing the body…” (Ibid).
From a spiritual perspective, when our comrades-in-arms suffer from combat fatigue, we need to be ready to administer aid. We need to be spiritual medics (Luke 10:33-35; Galatians 6:2). But how can we help those who are experiencing such intense heartache and difficulty…
1. See that they get plenty of hot chow. While a covered dish is always appreciated, the kind of food wounded Christian soldiers need most of all is that which endures. “He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness” (Psalm 107:9, cf.5). The eternal teachings of Jesus provide needed sustenance (John 6:27; Psalm 103:5; 2 Peter 2:2) to the war-weary.
2. Encourage them to get sufficient rest and sleep. Time away from the battle front is imperative if soldiers are ever to recover and fight again. Even The Commander-In-Chief (of the spiritual army) Himself took an occasional “furlough” (Mark 6:31) from His engagements — “He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself…” (Matthew 14:13a).
3. Urge them to get their troubles off their chest. Soldiers who have endured severe shelling need a sympathetic, listening ear. Fellow soldiers can listen and appreciate their comrades’ perspective (Proverbs 17:17; 18:24; James 5:16), and The Commander will also be attentive. “The Lord will hear when I call to Him…” (Psalm 4:3a; 27:2; 130:2).

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Mike Benson

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