The relentless blows had become a part of daily life for me. One after the other, day after day, they assaulted me without reprieve.
At first, I took it in stride.
They persecuted our Lord, didn’t they?
But in due time I grew weary and settled into a deep despondency. I had convinced myself that I had to face this persecution alone - a self-proclaimed martyrdom. Having just recently transferred to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, I had not yet met many Christians with whom I could share my struggles. I told myself that this was the cross I was forced to bare - this tortuous solitude, this daily affront to my character, this unwarranted, malicious offense. But the sequela of that attitude was that this particular cross, this unpropitious trial in my Christian walk, had become a stumbling stone for me. And with the passing of each day, I became a little more morose.
The blows weren’t physical. They were manifested in attitudes of vulgar impudence, intentional exclusion of camaraderie, and in cutting verbal jabs aimed at my competency, my personality, and my character. They cut me nonetheless. Every day I went home to the barracks wounded, bleeding, and alone.
Errantly, I viewed my fellow airmen with contempt. They were cruel bullies, I told myself; and I was constrained by my Christian beliefs to lash back. I upheld the utmost testimony to my fellow airman. I was blameless, without repudiation; or so I thought. In reality, I had neglected the most fundamental tenant of my faith.
Jesus said for us to love our enemies, bless them that curse us and do good to them that despitefully use us and persecute us (Matthew 5:44). In this very fundamental cornerstone of Christianity, I had failed.
Despite my failings, I noticed something remarkable over the eight months of my brief internment at Tyndall Air Force Base. While I was being made a very public spectacle each day - relentlessly being put on the judgment seat, my fellow airmen began to confide in me privately. During our long hours of patrol duty on the Air Force base, one by one they opened up to me, telling me about their lives, their fears, and their pain.
“I wasn’t raised like this,” one airman told me. “I just want you to know that. I grew up in church; I didn’t used to act like this.”
Another airman told me how much he missed feeling the Holy Spirit inside of him, how he had been so close to the Lord as a youth. One after the other, day after day, they all in due course confided in me. I listened, and I responded when I thought I should. Upon the commencement of my service at Tyndall Air Force Base, one airman had rededicated his life to the Lord, another received a calling to the ministry, and still others were contemplating turning to God.
Ostensibly, the Lord used my inauspicious circumstances to reach my fellow airmen, despite my apathy for my coworkers and aside from the disdain of the situation that I was in. The striking parallel to the story of Jonah was poignantly apparent.
Looking through the eyes of hindsight, the reason for the thin veil of offense that my fellow airmen brandished is obvious to me now. When bullies lash out, often times they are in actuality reaching out, daring someone to care. How we respond could make all the difference.
I no longer harbor any contempt for the men of my former unit; my repugnance has been replaced with love. As I look back on those days at Tyndall Air Force Base, I think of those men often and wonder where they are now. Do they now face bullies as I did? I remember them often, and I pray.
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;
Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.
For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.”
2 Corinthians 4:7-11