Marine Corps veteran Justin Constantine knows what it’s like to experience pain. In 2006, Lt. Colonel Constantine was shot by a sniper in the Al-Anbar province of Iraq. The bullet exploded straight through his head from the back to the front, causing such catastrophic damage that at first his fellow Marines thought he had been killed. But Constantine survived, and underwent more than 20 grueling surgeries over the years that followed to reconstruct his face. Not only did Constantine endure intense physical suffering, but he also struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder during his long healing process.
Through it all, Constantine relied on strength from his faith that God still had a good purpose for his life, despite his suffering. Now he inspires people all over the USA with his leadership speeches, and helps other wounded veterans go through their own healing processes.
“Many have told me since my injury that God played a hand in keeping me alive and that it was not my time to go,” Constantine said. “I would not presume to fully understand my role in a larger plan, but I do believe we are all here for a purpose. Taking the time to think about that purpose and what we want to achieve is time well spent.”
America’s veterans can teach all of us valuable lessons about how to cooperate with God for healing from any kind of wounds we suffer in body or soul. Learning those lessons will help us fulfill God’s purposes for our lives, no matter how much pain we go through. Here are six healing lessons you can learn from them:
1. Courageously face the suffering you’ve been through.
While it’s tempting to try to avoid the pain in your life by denying or suppressing it, pain will affect you no matter what – so you might as well face it head-on, where you can deal with it best.
Veterans don’t sugarcoat the hard realities of their pain. They acknowledge that they have some serious issues to deal with as a result of the trauma they went through. Those issues are also ones you may experience from trauma in your own life such as: sleeping problems like insomnia or nightmares, tension in relationships with family and friends, grief, chronic physical suffering from injuries or illnesses, unresolved anger, struggles to forgive, deep sorrow, and even suicidal thoughts.
Just like veterans approached the scariest of situations – like combat – with bravery, they approach the realities of their pain with courage. You can have courage by asking God for it, and then moving forward in the midst of your fear with faith that will overcome that fear step by step.
2. Pray about pain and live with purpose.
Veterans know what it’s like to come to the end of themselves and need to rely on God to navigate situations beyond their control. In response to that, they seek God’s wisdom and live day by day according to what’s most important.
“I am part of something on earth much larger than myself, and as a result, I want to lead an intentional life where I specifically focus on the things that are important to me,” Constantine said. “That includes taking the time to identify my short and long-term goals, saying ‘No’ to requests that are not in line with my priorities, and detailing what I am grateful for each day.”
You can choose to keep seeking God’s purposes for your life even in the midst of your pain. Don’t let your pain distract you from fully opening the God-given gift of each new day that you’re alive. As long as you’re breathing, you can accomplish something good.
3. Reach out to people who can help the most.
Veterans tend to open up to other people who have also served in the military, because those are usually the ones who understand their wounds the best and care the most about trying to help. The spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood that veterans have unites them in bonds of trust, respect, and love.
Just like veterans, you can find trustworthy, caring people and open up to them, talking about your feelings and asking for the practical help you need. Simply being in each other’s presence can promote healing.
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them,” Jesus promises in Matthew 18:20. Talking honestly about each other’s faith, questions, hopes, and concerns can help you discover together how to trust God in deeper ways.
Also, professional counselors can help with even the most challenging issues. Constantine recalled: “I went to counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder for 18 months where I talked with a doctor every week. This was so helpful and impactful that my wife could tell if I had missed a week, and I cannot recommend enough that others seek counseling when facing any sort of behavioral health challenges.”
4. Learn from your battle scars.
Every scar that veterans have on their bodies or souls has a story of valiant struggle behind it. They know that there were good purposes involved in the battles that led to their scars. Rather than seeing scars as burdens, they view scars as badges of honor for faithfully fighting battles.
So veterans pay attention to what their scars can teach them. They reflect on their experiences – no matter how challenging or painful – to figure out how those bad struggles can accomplish good purposes.
You can do the same. While you may not be involved in physical combat for your country, you are always involved in spiritual combat that affects your soul: the spiritual warfare between good and evil forces. Whenever you’re injured in action, you can ask God to show you what wisdom you can gain from the experience. Battle scars remind you of the reality that you’re part of a spiritual war, but also that God will empower you to be victorious.
5. Pursue activities you enjoy.
Your pain doesn’t have to cast a gloomy cloud over your entire life. Make time to do activities that bring you joy whenever you can. Doing so will help you put your situation in a larger perspective.
Constantine enjoys exercise, so he does so in a variety of ways, including playing golf, swimming, and lifting weights. Exercise, he said, “helps me to clear my mind and feel a sense of accomplishment at the same time.” Just like veterans make time for enjoyment when possible, so can you.
6. Use what you’ve learned to help others in pain.
Veterans are used to serving others; it goes the core of what they did in service to our country.
Constantine regularly looks for opportunities to help other people. “I recently completed a seven-month course to learn how to be a personal coach in the areas of transition and personal development,” he said.
God can use your time of suffering to develop greater compassion in you for others in their times of need. Look for God-given opportunities to give your time and insights to others, trusting that doing so will help you in your own healing process. You’ll discover that God will bring people into your life who are suffering from the same type of pain that you’ve overcome.
If you’ve survived cancer, for instance, you’ll meet someone who’s fighting it right now. Or, if you’ve recovered from a divorce, you’ll encounter someone who’s currently going through one. Use what God has taught you to encourage and support others along the way.
Veterans bravely fought during their time on active military duty, but it’s the courageous ways they have dealt with pain afterward that we can all emulate. From veterans’ examples, we can learn to trust God through pain in deeper ways and emerge victorious!
Whitney Hopler is author of the Wake Up to Wonder book and the Wake Up to Wonder blog, which help people thrive through experiencing awe. She leads the communications work at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. Whitney has served as a writer, editor, and website developer for leading media organizations, including Crosswalk.com, The Salvation Army USA’s national publications, and Dotdash.com (where she produced a popular channel on angels and miracles). Connect with Whitney on Twitter and Facebook.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images