The conversation was not about debating whether people should have the right to own guns or protect themselves; it was about something much deeper. He was talking about being upset with his daughter's desire to buy a gun for protection. His daughter lives alone and her home was recently broken into. She felt violated and vulnerable. She told her father she was going to buy a gun and keep it in the nightstand by her bed.
He imagined she was surprised he did not fully support her plan. He said she looked a bit shocked when he emphatically told her, "Buying a gun and learning how to use it and store it safely is the easy part. What is not easy is the reality that if you pull a gun on someone you must be ready to use it. What is not easy, and you must think long and hard about is, -- Will you be able to live with yourself if you kill someone?" Then quietly, almost in a whisper, he said to me, "I know that from being in Vietnam and it has only gotten worse."
We sat in silence for a while; then I took a risk. "May I ask what you mean by that?" He thought for a moment. Soon, his tough exterior faded, and he shared with me the deep shame and guilt he struggled with every day. He told of the recurring nightmares he endured. He confessed that although family, friends, and even his pastor agreed that these were justified actions in a time of war, he felt his actions were unforgiveable. He also shared he dreaded Veterans Day celebrations.
It was a conversation I have had countless times with veterans that served in active war zones, but still I was not expecting it. It was a holy moment. It was a powerful reminder to me of how carefully we must walk as pastors and leaders when seeking to provide hope and healing. On Veterans Day, many of our churches celebrated all the brave men and women who served to fight for the freedoms we enjoy, and we often take for granted. I believe there is deep value in acknowledging our gratefulness for their service. Yet, I also believe we must acknowledge and make space for the realities of suffering and pain (physical, emotional and mental) our veterans face.
As we continue to remember our veterans, may we also remember that they need our support in naming and making peace with the lasting effects of war. Let us lift up those who served our nation, protecting and defending our freedom. Let us remember and pray for those whose spirits and bodies are scarred by war, whose nights are haunted by memories often too painful for the light of day.