Authored by Dan Roselle
“Why did you join the military, anyway?” I asked the 23-year-old man who often visited our home. He was eager to tell me his story. His parents were missionaries, he explained, and he had been in a mission school in a foreign country until he was in his late teens.
He had dreamed of joining an elite military unit, so at 17, as soon as he felt he was sufficiently buff, he left home and signed up for the military. He was handsome and strong, but he had obviously been through some difficult times in the four or five years since joining. He went into detail about some required tests that he had been put through that challenged his physical abilities to the point of near death. He even got injured during one of the underwater tests, but there was no mercy from his platoon leader. And because of that injury, he was told that he would not make it into the elite unit.
Although he described himself as having been an arrogant teenager, it was plain to see that there was now a sense of humility in his life.
He was now stationed just a few hours away from where I lived, and he would visit me and my wife on his days off. His visits were as much an inspiration to me as they were for him, as we both enjoyed our talks. We’d read the Bible or other devotional material together, which would usually lead into deeper conversations about his past and future. Often we’d have prayer regarding some of the more frustrating situations he had encountered in the military base.
On one occasion, while listening to this man share his life’s story, I could sense that there was something about his past that bothered him, so I asked him to delve a little deeper. That’s when he told me that over the past few years he had hardened his heart to God because he hadn’t liked being told what to do by his teachers and supervisors in the Christian boarding school he attended as a youth.
Sensing there was a lot more to the story, I said, “Fill in the gaps. What didn’t you like?”
“I didn’t like having someone looking over my shoulder all the time telling me what to do and how to do it.” He went on to give examples. “You know, like, ‘clean the toilet, do the dishes, mop the floor,’ and things like that. I wanted to do something on my own, be my own boss. There were things I wanted to do, places I wanted to go, and I didn’t want to have to report to anybody.
“All I really wanted to do was to build my body and then join the military. I felt I had to prove myself. That was my goal.”
So, trying to get a handle on what he was saying, I summed it up, “So, you mean you didn’t want to yield to those supervising you, right?”
“Right!” he agreed. “I didn’t want to yield to anyone. I wanted to be free. I wanted to be independent. You know, make my own decisions and things.” It was a common feeling I’ve often heard repeated by young adults.
“Okay,” I agreed, “so you didn’t want to yield to your teachers or supervisors in that boarding school, but how did that fit in with what you’re doing in the military now?” It was a loaded question, because a few minutes earlier this young man had explained to me the reason why he hadn’t come to visit us the week before: He had been put on extra cleaning duties on the base. He had failed some of his tests, and the officer in charge was making him do extra work, like clean the toilets and mop and scrub the barracks, while the rest of the unit was out for the weekend.
“Well,” he paused, as he thought for a moment in answer to my question. “I guess I’m still learning that I have to yield to somebody. I guess that’s the lesson I’ve got to learn no matter where I am. It seems that if Jesus has to teach me something specific, He’s going to use anything He can to help me to learn it.” Bingo! He hit the nail on the head.
Our talk continued for a while as we enlarged on this principle that applies to each one of us: As we go through life we are going to come across learning experiences regardless of our age, upbringing, beliefs, careers, or any other factor. When we are open to learning and accept that we have room for growth—whether emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, etc.—we’ll most likely find that those experiences are a lot easier to journey through. But when we resist the chance to learn and try to avoid it at all costs, we often find that those experiences are pretty unpleasant and hard to get through—or they seem to keep coming up regardless of how we try to avoid them!
Like in this man’s story, as a teen he was convinced that he had to get away from his supervisors or teachers. He was desperate to live his own life, to be his own man, to do what he wanted, make his own decisions, and be free from someone looking over his shoulder. In his journey, though, he kept encountering situations where he had to submit to those in authority. Once he realized that the real issue was not with the people telling him what to do but rather his inability to submit, listen to suggestions, or accept having superiors, then he was able to accept the learning experience, see how he could change, work to change, and in the end it made his experience in the military much easier.
Now there was another aspect to this man’s story. At one point he told me that he regretted having joined the military and wondered if he had made a mistake. This was a difficult thing to face, because if he determined that it had in fact been a mistake, it would’ve been hard for him to rectify things right away. Terminating his contract early would have meant a dishonorable discharge, and no soldier wants that on his record. So it would mean living out the term with the realization that he had made a mistake and couldn’t do much to change things. We talked about this, and I encouraged him that even though it was a decision he regretted, God could still use it for good in his life. There was no mistake he could make in life that would be too big or complicated for God to work with. I suggested that maybe God wanted to use him to be a witness to others in his unit, and he agreed to the idea and decided to try to witness as much as he could. To end this story, while this young man didn’t get an early discharge from the military, he sure did a lot of witnessing in his last year of duty, which fueled his desire to do more for God. When he finally finished his military duty he got involved in a mission work that delivers medical supplies to a developing country.
You see, we each belong to Jesus. And I firmly believe that He has plans for our lives, ways He wants to use us, lives He wants to touch through ours, things He would like to see us accomplish. But those plans aren’t based on our being perfect or on our making the right decision at every crossroad. God is so much greater than that. He can fulfill His purpose in us even when we mess up or make the wrong decisions or end up in the wrong place. That’s the beauty of the promise in Romans 8:28: God can use every single thing in our life for our good, someway, somehow.
We can’t even make decisions that take us out of God’s hands! Jesus promised that His Father is greater than all, so nothing is able to snatch us from God’s hands.1
King David put it this way:
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.2
There is no place that we can hide from Jesus, no decision we can make that will make it impossible for Him to reach us. Jesus cares for you and will be with you regardless of where your life’s journey takes you. He can use anything in your journey, any of your experiences, to work good in your life. He wants to use you regardless of what decisions you’ve made and where those decisions have brought you. He’s eager to help you to learn from life’s experiences and move forward. But most importantly, He wants you to discover His great love for you and His desire to have a personal relationship with you.
If you could remember only two things from this story, I hope it would be these things:
Firstly, no matter who you are, you are going to encounter learning experiences in life. That’s life! It’s better to grab hold of learning experiences and see what you can learn from them, rather than try to avoid them, as you might find that the more you run from life’s lessons, the more difficult it becomes to move forward in life. You never know, what you learn today could turn out to be a great boon to you in your future! So face those lessons head-on, even the tough ones; don’t shy away from them.
And secondly, but more importantly, Jesus is with you regardless of your journey. Regardless of your choices, your beliefs, your current situation—anything at all—Jesus will not separate Himself from you for a second. He is with you and will use anything in your journey to help you to discover His limitless, complete love for you.
And that is by far the best discovery ever.
1 John 10:29.
2 Psalm 139:7–10 NIV.
Read by Stephen Larriva. Music by Simon W. Copyright © 2012 by The Family International