I just finished doing 22 push-ups every day for 22 days. I am getting over the muscle soreness that developed after a few days of trying to do those push-ups with correct form. I have discovered that even though I used to do a lot of push-ups every day, that when you take a few months off to let your shoulder heal, you lose your edge.
I am doing these push-ups because I received a Facebook message from my son Charlie challenging me to the 22-day, 22-push-up challenge. (You can watch me struggle in this video.) Much like the ice water bucket challenges of a few years ago, I am supposed to challenge others every day to join in and they are supposed to do the same. The goal has been to raise awareness of the terrible statistic that on average 22 veterans of our armed forces choose to end their lives every day. They are people without hope.
Somewhere along the 12th or 13th day it dawned me that I am part of the most hopeful organization on earth, the church of Jesus Christ. And, I have hope that I can share, the gospel of grace. From that day forward I began to add that my hope is that we can have the opportunity to share the hope found in the gospel with veterans who have lost their hope.
Recently as I did my usual pass through ScienceDaily.com, I came across a new research study that sums up the problem.[i] The study surveyed 2000 U.S. veterans in 2011 and in 2013. Each time they were asked if they had experienced suicidal thoughts in the prior two weeks. Overall, 13.7% of the veterans said that they had thought of suicide during those two weeks. Of those reporting suicidal thoughts in the first survey, 4% reported that their suicidal thoughts had stopped. In the second survey, 5% reported suicidal thinking when they had none in the first survey.
There were many important things the researchers found in the study. Suicidal thinking was not constant among the veterans, highlighting the importance of regularly asking those veterans who are at risk after their combat service if they struggle with suicidal thoughts. Those at greatest risk were veterans who were not socially connected and who had significant emotional and physical struggles. Substance abuse only made their situation worse.
The good news was that veterans who had good social connections where far less likely to have suicidal thinking. Those who had suicidal thinking in the first survey who had good social support were more likely to report that their suicidal thinking had ceased. And that brings me back to the role of the church and the gospel.
Social Connectedness is defined in terms of family, friends, work, and purpose. Veterans who come home to families and friends who are aware of their struggle can be offered help and support. And, that can make a significant difference. A veteran who comes home to a job and with purpose in life is far less likely to lose hope.
So how can we help as individuals and as a church?
First, we can be aware. Just because a veteran looks like he is not struggling does not mean he isn’t. Always ask. How are you doing? Are you struggling? In one research study, when everyone who came to the emergency room was asked if they had suicidal thoughts, the number of people responding roughly doubled from 3% to 6%.[ii] Just asking can lead us to people who need hope and help.
Second, as Christians and churches, we can make the effort to share the hope that is found in the gospel with men and women who simply have none. The church ought to be the definition of “social connectedness.” Our small groups, our adult bible fellowships, our worship services, and every other ministry ought to be the place that veterans without friends and family can find both.
Then there is work and purpose. Veterans need to be working when they return home. Churches should be a place for networking for our returning veterans. Purpose is an important issue for all returning veterans particularly for those who struggle with unseen wounds of war such as PTSD.
Real purpose comes first with knowing that the Creator is our Savior. Sharing the truth of gospel opens the door to the real purpose of life. And, that purpose is summed in a sentence that I have shared with strugglers for years. I want to glorify God with my life more than I want to breathe! It is derived from 2 Corinthians 5:9, “Therefore also we have as our ambition to be pleasing to Him.” It is a privilege to be able to offer that purpose on Monday nights in the counseling ministry to those who come and are struggling. I think veterans can find hope there.
So, that is why I am doing 22 push-ups a day. Join me if you can. And join in helping veterans who are looking for hope and family and friends and purpose.
[i] Veterans Affairs Research Communications. “New study reports on suicidal thinking among US veterans.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 April 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160405161346.htm>.
[ii] University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester. “Suicide risk can be intercepted in the emergency department.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 April 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160405182355.htm>.