FINDING HOPE IN POWERLESSNESS

Good morning, I’m Chaplain Michael Jaques, a chaplain in the US Army Reserve and at the VA. This week’s blog is a presentation that I made to my Sunday school class after getting back from my last deployment to Kuwait in 2018. Let me know your thoughts.

Introduction

Good morning. I’m Michael Jaques.  I’m filling in for our illustrious Sunday School teacher who is taking a well-deserved break.  I pray that you will give me a little grace, as it will be hard to measure up to his standard! 

Beth gave me free rein to speak on anything– and suggested maybe talking about the Army Chaplaincy.  So, since she is a wise woman, that is what I’m going to focus on today. 

Chaplain

Background

A little background first, I’ve been an Army chaplain since 2006 and have been mobilized and deployed in support of the Global War On Terror since then until now, when I just returned from Kuwait.  During this time, I’ve ministered to Service Members (SM) in every stage of deployment to include getting ready to deploy, during a deployment, and reintegration after deployment, and supporting the spouses while the SM were deployed. 

Context

Each of these stages has particular challenges.  For instance, the anxiety leading up to a deployment, facing the unknown, not knowing what to expect over there, worrying about leaving your Family, and wondering if you will come back alive.

Anxiety

During the deployment SM struggle to deal with the powerlessness to affect situations that are going on back home.  One of the kids may have a medical issue and the SM isn’t there to support the family.  The house may have plumbing issues and the spouse doesn’t know what to do.  Or, maybe the SM gets a letter that their significant other doesn’t want to be in the relationship anymore. 

When the SMs come home, everyone has an adjustment to make.  The spouses have been doing everything on their own for a year and may not do things the same way.  Maybe she moved the toothpaste to a new spot or got rid of his favorite chair.  The SM must take it slow before he re-asserts his place in the home. 

Often, SMs also deal with spiritual, psychological issues from their experiences overseas.  Sometimes they have to live with things they have done or witnessed.  They face the grief of losing members of their unit who did not come back.  And others suffer with the re-occurring nightmares of being blown-up (and other traumatic events).

Best Practices

This is the context in which military chaplains minister.  During this time that I’ve been ministering to these men and women who pick up and go to the other side of the world at their nations call, the most important thing that I learned is the magic of listening.  When someone has a chance to express what is going on with them and to be heard by someone else, it is magical.  Something happens that they feel comforted, they have a chance to process what is going, they come up with answers, and intimate bonds are formed. 

The most important thing that a chaplain can do is to make his rounds and go out and visit the SMs.  He can learn who they are; hear their stories; they know that he cares.  Doing this often prevents small issues from becoming big issues because they are dealt with early. 

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So many times, a SM will come to see a chaplain.  He may talk for 90 minutes getting everything off his chest.  At the end of the session, the SM thanks the chaplain profusely for helping.  All the chaplain did though was actively listen, helping the person process….But it meant the world.

Sometimes, though, the chaplain isn’t able to fix things, to console the SM.  Things aren’t always OK.  The SM may leave just as upset as when he came.  There isn’t anything that the chaplain can do—and he feels powerless. 

Transition

This powerlessness is something that I struggled with for some time.  In fact, I did a research project on the topic.  I was curious if other chaplains struggled with this issue too, and if so, how did they resolve these feelings. 

What I found was that other chaplains did in fact share these feelings of powerlessness AND that there are ways to resolve them. 

The reason that I’m sharing this with you is because I also found that these feelings are not only a burden of military chaplains but of leaders, caregivers, first responders, and anyone who ministers to someone they love.  Maybe you have struggled with feelings of powerlessness to affect a certain situation.

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I am Powerless

During my interviews, chaplains gave examples of situations in which they felt powerless.  One chaplain told of a time his unit was being mortared, which means the enemy was shooting explosives over the wall into their camp.  A Soldier was hit with some shrapnel or jagged pieces of metal from the explosive device.  All the chaplain wanted to do was save the Soldiers life, to make the mortars stop, to take away the fear of everyone as they ran for cover.  BUT he wasn’t able to do ANY of those things. 

Here are some other things that chaplains said during the interview:

  • I want to offer solutions…I can ONLY offer God’s care
  • I am at the aide station and casualties are screaming—I couldn’t help…I could JUST hold their hand, talk, pray…I felt powerless
  • Who I am as a person depends on how much I can help.
  • I feel like I must fix it rather than just listen.
  • I Don’t feel like an effective minister to Soldiers
  • I prayed for safety, but safety never came—Soldiers still got killed
  • I Feel powerless, reaching out for anything – other than God.

I Am god

During the analysis of these interviews, figuring out what underneath the distress that the people were experiencing, what started to bubble up was that subtle-ly without naming it, the people had a tendency to desire to be all powerful or even godlike.

  • People feel proud, maybe you feel proud, when you are able to fix it—and Feel powerless when you can’t
  • In your pride, maybe, you want to have the ability to make it go your way.
  • You give yourself glory when you get it right.
  • Do you, at times, experience a lack of faith that God can or will fix a situation?
  • Do you ever desire to take control and carry out your own will and fix it rather than waiting on the Lord and allowing His will and his purpose?

I Am Changed

Of course, these questions are rhetorical.  You either have experienced them or are experiencing them now.  There is good news, though!  During these interviews, I found some people that had worked through these feeling and had been able to resolve them—They were able to embrace the power that they had AND accept the limits of their power.

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The following are five characteristics of people that have been able to resolve their feelings of powerlessness and have a more mature faith.  I call these five characteristics…attainments.  

  1. The first attainment is a Well-Developed Identity:
  • Feelings of powerlessness are resolved when you see yourself in the proper context. It is not your job to fix everything.  You are not god. 
  • Remind yourself that your identity is not in your job or what you can do, but in Christ…it is who you work FOR, not who you ARE…you are God’s instrument.
  1. The second attainment is an Increased Sense of Humility:
  • When you accept that you are not all powerful, it releases you from the burden of pride and pretense.
  • This idea goes back to the Fall from Grace when Adam was tempted to be like God.
  • When you accept the limits that God has placed on you, it diminishes your sense of pride and in a way restores you to what it was like before the Fall.
  • Powerlessness is not bad—It puts you in a place of humility…to be desperately dependent on the Lord…in touch with the Savior…and you are enabled to move forward in the day…. for God to use you for whatever circumstances show up.
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  1. The third attainment is to Value Your Contributions that God has empowered you to do on His behalf:
  • When you have this attainment, your language, your thinking, is different. For instance, your statements highlight things that you can do and you are grateful that God has let you participate WITH Him. 
  • Contrast this to those who diminish their role describing it as “The only thing I can do is listen when I really desire to fix it.”
  • When you are mature, you understand the value of being present—You know the comfort of knowing God is there –even if God doesn’t stop the bad thing from happening.
  • You can be a non-anxious presence in the midst of anxiety.
  • You know that hope resonates, and planted seeds will be watered by somebody.
  1. The fourth attainment is that you ae starkly Aware of Your Finiteness.
  • The person who has gained this attainment knows intimately not to take responsibility for other person’s issues.
  • “You understand what you can and cannot do…realizing you don’t have power to control circumstances. You can only do so much. On occasion, maybe you’ve unconsciously wanted to be a small “g” god, but now you have learned that you are not a small “g” god and that you would be utterly destroyed, if you thought you could fix everyone’s problems. 
  • You don’t have to come up with all the answers. Your mindset…theology doesn’t allow you to get caught up in it…you know God is involved.
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  1. The final attainment is that you have Strength in Weakness.
  • The hallmark of believers is the idea of God’s strength being highlighted in human weakness.
  • The contrast is that your “Helplessness comes because you are relying on yourself instead of Christ.”
  • I think it is a paradox that in your human nature, you run from, avoid failure…you don’t want to be seen as less than, or as nothing…human nature doesn’t want to be humiliated, or humbled, …that is wrong feeling…you should embrace it…then God shows up…and He has all strength and power.
  • This idea of being strong in weakness seldom happens voluntarily. Usually, you need to be driven to this point.
  • When you have exhausted all other means and have gotten to the end of yourself, then you get to a place in which you sense an utter dependence on God.

Conclusion

In conclusion, when you are able to find strength in your weakness; become starkly aware of your finiteness; truly value your contributions; have an increased sense of humility; and have a well-developed identity in Christ, then, maybe, you will be on your way to resolve your feelings of powerlessness. Amen. 

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