Chaplain Spouse

Left Behind During Deployment

by Rebekah Cochell

Left behind.

That’s how I feel sometimes. And not in a “left behind after the rapture” type of way. This is a left behind out of the action, adventure, and glory.

When my husband goes off to war, my only battle seems to be against my own seeming insignificance. And I become jealous, even though we both made the decision concerning our roles. I am the one who is home in an endless loop of “groundhog days,” driving teenagers to sporting events, cooking, cleaning, and sleeping alone, while he is doing the “important work.”

I know! When I write it down, it sounds horrible! Being a stay-at-home parent is a blessing! And many writers and theologians have said it is THE most important job!

Sometimes, however, no matter how smart or educated we are, it’s difficult to BELIEVE something we KNOW.

I am so thankful I have the option to stay home, and of course I know that my children are much more important than other “adventures.” But to be honest, I don’t feel that way all the time.

You might be thinking that if I really wanted to be part of the adventure and glory, I should have become a soldier or chaplain myself.

But I would make a TERRIBLE soldier.

I have issues with public restrooms, for one. It’s the fodder of my nightmares.

I have issues with schedules and being on time. I’m constantly five minutes late (which is 20 minutes late military time)!

And waking up at 4:30 am does not work for me!

Of course, some of this discontentment has to do with the fact that when you work outside of the house, you have tangible goals that are completed, you have projects with visible finished results, and you have coworkers and clients who praise you if you do a good job.

At home, the laundry piles never seem to get smaller, the dirty dishes never stop, and nothing seems to show for it.

This shouldn’t really matter, but when you are home, you go through days and weeks of not feeling like anything you do is noticed, appreciated, or will amount to anything. Especially during a deployment when not even a husband is around to give a nice nod to your labor.

There is another factor that plays into doing something “meaningful” as a military spouse. Many military spouses sacrifice careers, not always because of kids, but because spouses go where the military tells them to. Many times, these places are towns without many opportunities for one’s chosen field.

Of course, there are tons of avenues in which a spouse can volunteer and at least feel a little more useful. Many spouses plug into the FRG or PWOC and contribute in powerful ways. Some play piano or sing and help with chapel services. Some plug themselves into children’s ministry.

When my husband was a new chaplain, I was a little lost. Initially, I did none of these. I met with the FRG and coffee groups, but I had no desire to take on a leadership role. I was not a big help in the chapel services; I can play a little piano, but I can’t hold a tune, and performing music in public is stressful for me. I had no desire to work with children in Awanas or Sunday School either.

The guilt over the lack of desire, especially concerning children’s ministry, was immense. I have a teaching degree, after all. Perhaps I was burnt out with 25 plus years of constant children’s ministry, since I was 12!

So, when my husband became a chaplain, I felt like I had no purpose; I was just an appendage. My role became one of representing my husband in public. I learned to look presentable for any given occasion, and I could say the right things. But this role left me unfulfilled.

One day, my husband called and asked if I was free. There was a certification class for a Strong Bonds curriculum and spouses were welcome to join. I didn’t know too many people yet, and we were down to one car. This was a chance to spend some time with him and get out of the house! I loved sitting in the training class with him, learning the curriculum. Teaching is not only my background, it’s in my blood.

After that, any opportunity to sit in a class I eagerly jumped on. When he would teach a Strong Bonds event, I taught with him. We would plan events together and co-teach. Our “gifts” worked well together. It was a way that I was useful in this new lifestyle.

It showed me that no matter what your passions or talents are, there are ways to use them within the military life.

But then deployments came and I was, you guessed it, left behind!

I was jealous of him. He was on the battlefront, literally and figuratively. He was fighting spiritual battles in physical wars. He was doing something BIG, supporting and loving the soldiers who were fighting for our freedom.

But, those of us on the home front, who are left behind, have significant battles and struggles too. And often our soldiers have a similar feeling of being left out. They are left out of the important aspects of family life. They miss out on things like birthday parties, baseball games, choir concerts, and graduations. And to top it off, they often feel like they aren’t doing much of importance either. There are times when nothing seems to be happening, times when everyone is frustrated with the futile nature of what they are doing. They often feel they are not being useful because they don’t know the big picture or what is happening outside of their bunker.

It is difficult to gauge the significance of a thing while you are battling through it.

It comes down to acceptance of what you have been given to deal with and being cognizant that everyone around you is going through significant battles as well.

After all, we know that the real battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the “forces of evil in the spiritual realm” and this battle is on both sides of the ocean, both sides of the war.

I know for a fact that many chaplains, and many other deployed Christian soldiers, have stories to tell. Stories of battling the real battle. Battles of depression and oppression. Battles of temptation and battles of loneliness. These are the battles that we as Christians need to be focused on. And they are equally potent whether you are home with the kids or off in the Middle East.

We are so fortunate that our God is infinitely more powerful than the spiritual forces of this world, and we know who will win in the end.

My feelings of being useless and left behind were not accurate. We are all in the trenches of significant and brutal battles, and there are those around us, wherever we are, who are facing battles of their own. This is not exclusive to the military life, yet military spouses have some commonalities in their struggles and we can have compassion for other spouses in an in-depth way.

Possessing peace and the assurance that God is in control and loves us endlessly allows us to share our faith when those around us–whether our children, friends, or neighbors–are struggling. It allows us to share the greatest hope of all.