Q&R: Praying for Soldiers

I have been asked to lead a time of prayer in a couple of weeks during Sunday worship in which we will pray over a young man who has joined the Air Force and shipping off to basic and eventually his assignment. I have agreed to lead the time of prayer, but I’m wondering how I go about praying for him with me being a Christian pacifist. Any suggestions? I have spent significant time thinking about, practicing, and experiencing ways this has happened. So I very much value your opinion on this. I’m open to hearing anything, even, “what’s the big deal, of course you pray for him.”

I think that it would be a mistake to focus on the bad aspects of the military, though there are many. But there are some things that do build up and strengthen those who join the military, especially boot camp. It can give people confidence, teaches them camaraderie, and fulfills their desire to be a part of something bigger than self. It takes courage, especially in a time of war, to enlist. These things are all things we can be thankful for and acknowledge (if you like) in praying for him in church.

I also know that we sometimes want to qualify our support and make it known in some way that we have some reservations about military service, but I don’t know if a prayer is the place for this. Instead, maybe pray that he be led to always do the right thing, no matter how hard it might be. Ask that God continue to strengthen him in his moral discernment, to always follow his conscience and (if yours is a “high church” tradition) the teachings and doctrines of faith.

Finally, i think it is important to ‘mark’ the person that he is before he is trained to do violence. You and I might agree that what he is about to do might compromise his moral or spiritual integrity. Having a moment naming him as wholly (and holy) one person now might give him something to return to if and when he encounters things that challenge the moral framework I hope your church has constructed for him to rely on. Problem is, i don’t know how this might be accomplished. This is not something that he needs to be aware of himself, but something referencing the person he is within his family (father, brother, son, etc.?) could serve this purpose. Did he always take his kids to baseball games? Was he always doing his chores for his parents? Did he and his siblings have anything particularly unique they did together? I think he might need that sensory memory in case he does something later that makes him feel less whole (and holy); something to return to, however mundane. i.e., even if he has to kill in war, he can return to wholeness by sharing baseball games with friends, or that thing he does with siblings, etc.

Most importantly, keep it brief, don’t make it a big deal. He is doing something important, but not incredibly more important than, say harvesting our food or educating our children. All vocations deserve respect, but none more than necessary. We venerate our service members too much sometimes, and that can have disastrous consequences. The longer he is the center of attention, the more this can become ingrained in our conscience. Keep our prayers short and our confessions long, if you ask me (or mewithoutYou, the band that I stole that line from).