Sunday, February 27, 2011

Combat Fatigue – When the Fight becomes Overwhelming

“So let's not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don't give up” (Galatians 6:9, The Message)

Combat stress reaction (CSR), in the past commonly known as shell shock or combat fatigue, is a military term used to categorize a range of behaviors resulting from the stress of battle which decrease the combatant's fighting efficiency. The most common symptoms are fatigue, slower reaction times, indecision, disconnection from one's surroundings, and inability to prioritize. CSR is usually short term, but repeated exposure to the stresses of combat can cause Post Traumatic stress Disorder, or PTSD for short. PTSD can bring on the following long term symptoms:

*Repeated "reliving" of the event, which disturbs day-to-day activity
*Flashback episodes, where the event seems to be happening again and again
*Recurrent distressing memories of the event
*Repeated dreams of the event
*Physical reactions to situations that remind you of the traumatic event
*Feelings of detachment
*Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
*Lack of interest in normal activities
*Less expression of moods
*Staying away from places, people, or objects that remind you of the event
*Sense of having no future

In years past this fatigue was called “cowardice” or “being yellow”, but thankfully medical experts have convinced most this is real and caused by no fault of the person. This is a physical and psychological issue that can be treated.

In the constant battle against evil, the Christian can become fatigued. Constantly attempting to do good in a corrupt society, following the rules while everyone around you cheats or trying to live righteously in unrighteous surroundings can wear us out, both mentally and physically. Add to this the “friendly fire” we suffer at the hands of our churches and ministry organizations, and we can become fatigued quickly.

Many times Jesus had to withdraw from the crowds to pray. We have always assumed this was to hear from God. We tie it to our “getting away to fast & pray” for power or a special need. Have we ever considered Jesus withdrew himself to heal from fatigue? Could the constant daily grind of needy people around him coupled with the hostile actions from the religious leaders have been overwhelming? Could Jesus have needed down time, just to heal and de-stress? Please read the following account in Luke 5:1-16 and see if this could be so. Notice how it emphasizes the press of the crowds, the troubled disciples and the needy.

In 1 Kings 19, we see the great prophet Elijah at the place of fatigue. The mighty one who stood down 450 false prophets on Mt Carmel was now on the run and tired. It says in verse 3-4, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said.”

This is a classic example of one who could not take any more. Elijah suffered from combat fatigue. No one could question Elijah’s courage or boldness, but years of being one of a few who would stand against evil became too much. He needed “down time” to heal. God gave him a place where he could rest, eat and heal.

Today’s soldiers are experiencing stress like no other. It used to be that with the draft, men only had to do one combat tour. After that they were done. They could volunteer for more, but you did your year and came home, or at least off the battle lines. In the all volunteer army, soldiers are deployed for a year, brought home for 12-15 months and deployed again. Some have served four or five combat deployments. The cumulative effects of this stress will not be known until later, but this wear and tear on the human soul cannot be good.

Likewise, the wear and tear on the soul of the believer who never heals from their combat fatigue is cumulative also.

Remember the symptoms:
*Feelings of detachment (“I don’t belong”, “nobody cares about me”)
*Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
*Lack of interest in normal activities (“preparing for a church meeting is difficult)
*Less expression of moods (expressionless, no longer share with the body)
*Staying away from places, people, or objects that remind you of the event
*Sense of having no future (see the ministry you are involved in as a failure or not succeeding)

Those of us who have been out on this battlefield many years tend to think we are invincible and made of indestructible material. We push and push, we follow our master’s orders, and we engage the enemy over and over and we try to do good, but we never have time to heal. Our ‘down time’ is filled with friendly fire, the problems and difficulties of family and friends.

We must not grow weary while doing good. If you must, get off the battle lines. The war will not be lost because you aren’t there. Others will stand in the gap for you. If Jesus and Elijah needed to heal, who are you and I?

Jeff Henning
February 2011

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