While serving as a Navy chaplain for seven years, I learned three things that I could apply in counseling with any person in any situation. These are also things you can do to help military service members and veterans in your community.
1. Listen. If you're privileged to gain an opportunity to listen to a soldier (Army), airman (Air Force), marine (Marines), sailor (Navy) or Coast Guardsman, take the time to do it. You may not understand everything he or she talks about. You probably won't be able to relate to their experiences, unless you've "been there" yourself. That's okay. A listening ear will go a long way. Probably over half the counseling sessions I had as a Navy chaplain were with someone who simply wanted to vent. To get something off their chest. To share a burden or struggle or pain. To have someone hear them out. Listen.
2. Pray. At the conclusion of nearly every counseling session I would ask if I might offer a prayer on their behalf. No one ever refused, although one sailor onboard the aircraft carrier USS Constellation said sarcastically, "Okay, if it will make you feel better." I smiled and said, "It always does." And I prayed for him.
I would often "pray the gospel" over someone. After lifting up their concerns to God, I would thank God for sending his Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins. I thanked God for his forgiveness and the hope of eternal life found through faith in Jesus Christ.
If you're not comfortable praying aloud with someone, you can still invite them to join you in silent prayer. It's powerful stuff. I wonder how many of the men and women I prayed with had never been personally prayed for before.
3. Recognize the person. If you're in the military, rank can be a distraction (or even an intimidation). If you're a civilian, seeing a uniform might distract you from the person wearing it. Remember that you're listening to a person, not just a soldier or veteran. Military life and experiences can be dehumanizing at times. Connecting in a real, personal way (through listening and prayer) is very important because it helps the person to feel grounded.
Finally, I would often share a scripture verse or two. Here are three of my favorites.
"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7).
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7).
[Jesus says,] "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).
Randy Mortenson serves as pastor of Ebenezer LBC, Mayville, ND.