There were three of them, just wasting time before their appointments. They had just come back from combat downrange and the unit had suffered some casualties. They were young and barely had any rank. Good-natured and happy, one soldier was ribbing the other about his weight. He said, "You're pretty good at this 'weighting' thing..." It was stupid but it made me smile--my kind of humor. Clearly, it was annoying him. The third chided the other guy and said, "Stop trying to get his goat." Since there were no small, furry creatures with horns around, I suspect his goat was safe. I joined the chat, indicating that this was just "AWT" -- official Army Waiting Training. Finally the guy said, "Just give it up, it doesn't bother me."
Today marks the first day of Lent, where Christians all over the world remember Christ's cleansing trip to the desert before his death. In recognition, we are supposed to mimic his sacrifice by giving up something pleasurable. For years I have keep this part of my faith alive, not only because of my beliefs, but because I always have a list of vices to surrender. Once again, I give up cigars. I have done this for three successive Lents, only to start again after Easter.
These young men have signed on to make sacrifices. Many with the thoughts of adventure, only to be met with the realities of war. Today, I learned about the men in their platoon that made the ultimate sacrifice in an IED explosion. Although they sign up to protect our freedom, most of them are just chasing the American dream. They don't sign up to die for you or me, they sign up to live. But if dying is asked for, they lay down their lives for us.
When we think about sacrifice, most of us don't do it well. We talk about how hard it is to give up something trifling, like candy or cigars. One woman I work with was bemoaning giving up coffee. Of course, many of us make personal sacrifices for our children, to offer them a better way of life than perhaps we had. But our servicemen sign on to help all of us maintain our personal freedoms. Even though they will never meet you or get anything personal out of it. Rather, the opposite is true. Battered and banged up, they just wear out before their time with physical and emotional injuries. I met with a soldier yesterday who was 30 years old; he looked more than 50, with a long list of combat-related challenges.
I join with those of you that choose to make sacrifices for the next 40 days. But I also join in thanking our servicemen and women for their sacrifices. Without their service, I might not even have the freedom of faith. Lent is a time when we remember the sacrifices made first by the Son to bring us closer to his Father, and now when we remember the brave men and women who sacrifice so much. Today I give it up in applause and prayer for them, for helping me to be free.