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Commentary Search

June Chaplain's Reflections

  • Published
  • By Ch. (Capt.) Benjamin McEntire
  • 169th Fighter Wing

If you’ve ever deployed, you know that many in the military assume that a lack of sleep is expected to be a normal part of life and deployment. Even while stateside, many live for work and constantly put their physical and emotional needs second. In most cases, it’s not like they intend to overdo things. Because it’s a normal part of our military culture, many don’t know they’ve fallen for one of the myths of self-denial: You must push yourself hard to get the work done, and eat/sleep/exercise/spend time with your family when it’s finished. The problem is that it never is. We reward people with that kind of work ethic, and build up the idea of the noble family that constantly sacrifices time with their loved one. While a certain amount of sacrifice is noble, there’s a problem when that becomes a never-ending way of life.


Think of each person, yourself included, as a bucket full of water. (Our bodies are mostly water, so it shouldn’t be too hard to imagine.) When you work, the water in the bucket gets emptied into the job. When you rest, exercise, or spend time in recreation or with loved ones, the bucket gets refilled. When your needs for those things aren’t getting met the way they should be, the bucket doesn’t get refilled. For many, it’s only a matter of time before their bucket’s empty. The really bad part? We usually don’t know we’ve been emptied so we keep trying draw from empty buckets.


One of the lessons I learned before I went into ministry is that if I try to take care of someone else when I’ve not been taking care of myself, I’m probably only going to mess them up worse. When a minister’s overly tired, they miss important details, and can’t think clearly enough to counsel correctly. If they’re not taking care of their relationships, they’ll have relationship problems that keep them distracted and unable to provide the best care. If they don’t eat right and exercise regularly, they’ll have less energy. These things are a part of effective stress management, and without them the stress builds up, leaving them without the emotional capacity to deal with it. A minister in that condition isn’t going to be too effective, are they? How does all of this apply to you?


When I was overseas, I was grateful that our maintainers worked in teams. Their workload made them personal heroes of mine, as they put in 12 hour days (realistically 14+) six days a week in what was often unpleasant conditions. I admired the commitment they made to making sure the fliers had safe equipment (i.e., multi-million dollar jets) that would bring them home in one piece, but I knew that they couldn’t pull that kind of schedule every week without making mistakes. I learned from talking with them that they knew that they were going to make mistakes out of fatigue, so they covered for one another to make sure problems got fixed correctly. They couldn’t take care of themselves the way they needed, but the short-term fix got them through for a time. Most of them—and us—know that none of us can live like that long-term, but many still try.


If you want to do your job well, make it a priority to get a good night’s rest, eat right, exercise regularly, and spend time in healthy relationships where others are contributing to your well-being. Research is finding that those who engage regularly in spiritual activities, such as worship, prayer, and devotional reading, have less stress. You’ll find that you will do your job better if you put aside the demands of work each day to make time for the 4 R’s: Rest, Relationships, Reflection, and Recreation. (Yes, we chaplains like our alliterations sometimes.) At first, taking the time you need to get the 4 R’s can feel like you’re betraying your job or shirking your responsibilities. If you stick with it, you’ll find that when you’re better rested, have healthy relationships, are physically fit, and have a strong sense of purpose, you’ll do better work in less time than when you’re physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually exhausted. Your teachers were right: a well-rested student always outperforms those that pulled an all-nighter trying to study!


If you need help getting things sorted out so you can avoid burnout, or need to talk with someone confidentially for the problems that keep you drained, you can reach the Chaplain Corps at 803-647-8265, or come by the office in the Wing Headquarters building.