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How to encourage military families spending Christmas apart

Gordon Groseclose
Courtesy of Gordon Groseclose

Roughly a third of active-duty U.S. Military members are currently serving outside of the United States, meaning that hundreds of thousands of Service members and their families will be apart from their loved ones this holiday season. As a former Military chaplain and a trauma healing specialist, we have seen firsthand the difference Scripture can make for Service members, Veterans, Military spouses, and Military children struggling to maintain healthy relationships with God and one another.

This December, millions of Americans will read and celebrate the story of Jesus's birth and experience the peace and hope that comes from this Scripture. But oftentimes for Service members, Veterans, and Military families, the holidays bring feelings of grief, social isolation, depression, loneliness, and anxiety. This is why, this holiday season, we have to consider not just the Bible’s stories of celebration, but also its stories of healing and comfort – and how we can get these stories into the hands of the people who need them most. 

Margi McCombs
Courtesy of Margi McCombs

Through our research at American Bible Society, we’ve found that frequency of Bible reading is correlated with a number of positive benefits, including feelings of hope, peace, and trust in God’s plan. Scripture can give Military members the foundation they need to face adversity and isolation with the gifts of hope and peace. Many of the Bible’s stories and passages are particularly relevant for those recovering from trauma.

We’ve seen that many Service members turn to God more often than they did as civilians. A 2019 survey by American Bible Society and Barna Group found that four in five Military members did not have a Bible when they entered the Military; but of those who received one during their service, 89% kept it. The survey also found that one-third of Service members and Veterans read the Bible at least once a week, with a particular interest in what the Bible says about pain, suffering, hopelessness and loneliness. This is particularly relevant considering that studies have shown that anywhere from 13% to 30% of deployed Veterans have suffered from PTSD.

American Bible Society has been providing the U.S. Military with Bibles for over 200 years. But our goal isn’t just to get Bibles into the hands of our Military; it’s to help them understand and apply its truths to their lives. That’s why the Armed Services Ministry, in consultation with past and present Military members, creates Scripture resources that resonate specifically with Service members, Veterans, and their families. It’s also one of the reasons we run the Trauma Healing Institute that develops resources with licensed counselors to effectively address trauma through Scripture.

We believe it’s important to address the challenges of Military service holistically. That also means seeking to understand how Military service and the eventual transition to civilian life impacts the entire family. The majority of Military families move every two to three years. For children, this could mean moving up to six times by the age of 12. Military children are repeatedly required to change schools, make new friends, and adapt to new homes. Additionally, they carry the emotional burden of fearing the death of a parent and the separation of deployments.

Military families are incredibly resilient but are often overlooked during discussions of Military-related trauma. As a country and as the Church, we can do better by our Military families. Some studies indicate that up to 30% of Military children will have difficulties during a parent’s deployment that include depression, anxiety, drug or alcohol use, or a decrease in academic performance. And suicidal ideations are more common among children who have been through numerous parental deployments. Many of the challenges these children face can be amplified during traditional “family times” like Thanksgiving or Christmas, which is why it’s extra important to support their wellbeing right now.

The Bible can be a steady source of comfort for children who experience feelings of instability, fear, and worry on a regular basis — showing them that they are not alone in these feelings and that God understands how they feel. That’s why it’s so critical to help our nation’s Military children read and apply God’s Word; it gives them a sure foundation in the midst of change.

This holiday, we encourage Americans to support our Military by inviting Military families to virtual church services; praying for them; checking in on them, dropping off meals for them and extending other gestures of friendship; and supporting Scripture-related initiatives that serve the Military community with the hope of Jesus. As we celebrate Jesus’ birth, let’s also remember the goals of his ministry. As we celebrate Jesus’ birth, let’s share the joy of knowing him with those who have and continue to serve in uniform.

Retired Army Colonel Gordon Groseclose served as U.S. Army Chaplain for 32 years before partnering with American Bible Society’s Armed Services Ministry to develop Scripture resources for Military members, Veterans, and their families.  

Dr. Margi McCombs holds a PhD in education and serves as American Bible Society’s Director of Children and Teen Trauma Healing.

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