David, a Warrior after God’s Own Heart: Drowning

US-Marines-Iraq_sm“I’d rather be back in Iraq than here.”

These words are all too common and reflect the difficulty that many veterans experience when they come home to a country that just doesn’t “get it.”

I’m a chaplain at the Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center in Little Rock, Arkansas. For the last 7 years, I’ve been working with many clergy and community members to help reach veterans and their families in rural areas. I lead a VA pilot project in Arkansas called the VA/Clergy Partnership for Rural Veterans. The goal of this project is to train local clergy and bring together community members to take responsibility for making sure veterans come “all the way home” and get the access to the care that they need. The project has now expanded to other states and become part of a national VA Community Clergy Training program.

Through this work, I’ve realized that much of what we’re learning is not new at all. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, moral injury, and suicide are at least as old as our Scripture. From the beginning, our faith has been influence by those who have fought and suffered “invisible wounds.” Maybe it is time that our faith communities engage the wounds of war that many of our 22 million veterans are carrying, alone. A good first step might be to examine our own Biblical heroes and the pain they experienced as a result of combat and alienation. With this in mind, I’m excited to begin with you a five-part series looking at the life of David through the lens of Psalm 69.

We will discuss this psalm from the perspective of David, not just as a king but as a warrior. We will look at some of the really difficult situations David faced that parallel many of the serious challenges that our men and women in the military face when they come home. We’ll discover ways you can help veterans, and maybe take a look at our own souls too.

Stained_glass_swords_mdToday, let’s begin with the first two verses of Psalm 69, a section I’ve dubbed “David Drowning”:

Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths,
where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.

A couple years ago, Anne Lamott wrote a book on prayer called, Help, Thanks, Wow, in which she argues there are basically just 3 kinds of prayers: “Help”, “Thanks”, and “Wow!” David’s prayer in Psalm 69 is definitely a “Help” prayer.

David begins by simply saying, “Save me, O God”. He’s in trouble and he needs help. Read verse 1 again:

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.

As David begins his prayer, he is stuck in the mud with waters rising and he’s about to drown. Maybe you can remember a time in your life when you felt the waters rising up around you, when you couldn’t get your footing underneath you long enough to keep your head above water. If you’ve been in the military, you may have literally walked through a river in the mud with a rucksack, so weighed down you felt like you might go under. Or maybe you’ve lost someone close to you, battled an addiction, or faced an illness that you were sure was going to do you in.

David wasn’t green. He wasn’t new to trouble. The Bible tells us that David was the King of Israel and was “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). We often assume David’s spiritual life was easy. By his military conquests and close friendships and the way even God talked about him, we assume David must have always felt close to God. But this isn’t true. David’s life was one filled with fear, threats, war, sin, guilt, and grief.

In verse 2, David says, “I have come to the deep waters, floods engulf me.”

David is feeling overwhelmed by the many floods that are about to drown him. Similarly, many of our veterans face some overwhelming challenges when they come home. We have now deployed over 2.5 million troops since 9/11. Most of them come home, face some challenges readjusting, but then do fine. Many, however, experience more difficult problems. About 1 in 5 of those returning suffer severe symptoms of PTSD or depression 6 months after they return home. Many veterans also suffer other “invisible wounds,” such as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Basically these are similar to concussions and result from explosions, “Improvised Explosive Devices” (IEDs), and convoy accidents.

Because of the things that we ask service members to deal with and do on our behalf, and the visible and invisible wounds they return with, many service members have a difficult time connecting with those they left behind. A lot of veterans also say that, because they are depending on each other for their lives every day, they become closer with their Battle Buddies than with their own families. This can cause trouble in families. Divorce rates in many previously deployed units have reached as high as 90%. Veterans can become isolated. Substance abuse, joblessness, homelessness, depression, and even suicide sometimes follow. These veterans have served us well and continue to serve us well at home. They deserve our concern, our listening ear, and when needed our help.

Many veterans are taught to be strong and self-sufficient. They don’t want to admit they need help and are even more reluctant to ask for help once they realize they need it. David was a warrior for almost his entire life. He fought from the time he was a shepherd boy until he was anointed the next king, through the many years as a solider before his crowning as king, and throughout the rest of his life. However, scripture shows that David had learned to ask for help. Psalm 69, for example, shows he learned to ask God for help. David knew he was in trouble. He could tell that he was about to drown in the floodwaters that had trapped him, and he was stuck in the mud, unable to get a foothold. Continuing alone was no longer possible, so he turned honestly to the God who made him, loved him, and who was always with him.

“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.” Maybe you have felt the waters rising above your head in the past, or maybe you are feeling that way right now. I pray that you will not continue to suffer in silence alone. Put aside your pride and ask for the help you need, the help God wants you to have. May we all be willing, like David, to admit we are drowning and to call out to God. After all, God might be the only one who can save us.

If you are a veteran or know of a veteran who may be struggling and need support, please call the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, and press 1. Or email me at vaclergypartnership@gmail.com.

Note: The second post in this series is available here.

Chaplain Steve Sullivan is a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-endorsed chaplain and leads the VA/Clergy Partnership for Rural Veterans. His interests are in classic rock and the intersection of spiritual and mental health, and pop culture and theology. Steve’s daughter Jenna is a CBF scholar at Wake Forest School of Divinity. Steve lives in Little Rock with his hyper lab, Sunny.

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