It was your typical All American dinner. The dad had just carved the meat. The two-year-old daughter made faces at her three-month-old brother in her mother’s arms. The family said grace and grabbed their forks when the phone rang.
The father answered. He listened in silence, his face betraying nothing but his hand gripping the receiver. “Yes sir,” he said, message received, and put the phone back before looking at his wife.
“Do you know where the insurance papers are?”
She nodded, tears forming at the edges of her eyes.
He went into the bedroom to grab some things and was back out in a few minutes. He kissed his children, his wife, and then was out the door, wondering if what had called him out into the night would be what keeps him from ever returning home.
Parts Unknown: Ready at any Moment
My father, at the time a company commander in a quick response unit of the army, spent 48 hours on a tarmac ready to deploy halfway around the world before being informed his mission was called off. He returned in time for leftovers, and about a year later his tour was up and left for the business world. I’ve grown up with a healthy appreciation of the sacrifices soldiers and their families have to make, but also with questions. What does it take to have that kind of commitment, to leave your loved ones, sometimes immediately, and put yourself in harm’s way for something you believe in?
When I read the story in Luke 9 of Jesus charging his twelve disciples with power and authority and then sending them out to cast out demons and cure diseases and proclaim the kingdom, I try to put myself in their position. But as the holy-charged disciples march out to do kingdom work, I can’t help myself. I want to hang back and ask Jesus a few questions. “So, uh, I’m not supposed to take money or bread or anything? Not even money for an inn or bed and breakfast or something? What happens if the demons get ornery?”
I want an instruction manual, Outlook calendar and cheat sheet for trouble shooting. But following Jesus in this case means walking toward parts unknown with only your faith. It also means failing, and being sanctified through it.
Mountaintop Misery: The Way It’s Supposed to Be
With the sun still tucked below the horizon, a fleet of military trucks pulled up to the base of Yonah Mountain in North Georgia. My friend Matt and 100 other soldiers spilled out with orders to march to the summit in one hour. This was in the mountain portion of Ranger school – a grueling 61-day combat leadership course that involved long hours of physical exertion with little sleep. More soldiers quit than pass. Matt was convinced he wouldn’t be one to cry uncle.
But on Yonah Mountain, he doubted himself for the first time. Halfway up his chest felt like it was going to explode. He fell out of formation and was lucky to complete the hike before time ran out. He hadn’t caved until this point, but what his bloodshot eyes saw made him want to. The lights of the North Georgia mountain communities sprinkled the valleys and nearby ridgelines, including Cleveland, where he knew his wife was staying with relatives. His exhausted mind worked out a scenario where he could hike down the 3,166 foot mountain and hitch a car ride and be reunited within an hour. Instead, he wrapped his poncho tighter and endured more cold and rain until the trainers barked orders and the soldiers descended the mountain for more training.
Matt’s mountaintop experience felt like a failure, but he knew that was the point of the training. Tear down to build up. Peter must have experienced some of this brokenness as Jesus appeared following the resurrection to seven of the disciples while they were fishing. Peter’s idealism had been shattered by his third denial of Christ before the crucifixion. Whatever pride Peter took in his faith vanished. But Jesus used that failure for his fulfillment. He poured his spirit into the void. “Feed my lambs,” Jesus tells the rock of his church, redeeming him bit by bit. “tend my sheep … feed my sheep.”
The Way: Following Like Soldiers Do
I admire the men and women who serve, and their families, because of the sacrifices behind their service, and I see some of what it means to be a faithful follower in Christ in their actions. They’ve submitted to a calling in good faith. They train their bodies and minds to be ready at a moment’s notice. They’re willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, but more often make a million smaller sacrifices with their time and commitments that we’ll never know about.
Is that so different from what following Jesus means? To submit to his authority over your life? To be ready to witness any hour of the day? To equip yourself with scripture and prayer and be willing to not only die for Christ, but learn to live for him as well? It’s an ideal I don’t know if I’ll ever fully meet, but one I at least have a sense of direction because of those who have made sacrifices for me.