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He Saved Others But He Couldn't Save Himself



I am no longer trying to save myself. Several years ago I shared with another chaplain, “The nightmares of others have become my own nightmares.” He said, “Brother, you sound like Captain Peter Linnerooth.” I had not heard of this Captain. I learned he was an Army psychologist. I went to my office and looked him up. Then I spent the next hour reading and rereading the captain’s story in Stars and Stripes. I called his best friend that had been with him in battle.


Linnerooth had counseled soldiers during some of the fiercest fighting in Iraq. Hundreds upon hundreds sought his help. He was described as one who could build instant rapport, show empathy, and change minds. He had a “big heart.” But on January 2, 2013, this Bronze Star recipient ended his life. As I read of his passing it was then I knew that something had to change. The vicarious trauma of working with hundreds of hurting people on the edge of life and death, along with my own PTSD had proven to me that I am no superman. I am just a man.


Linnerooth’s passing made the headlines of many national papers. One such headline read, “He Saved Others, But Couldn’t Save Himself”. That is not the first time such words were uttered, the same was said of Jesus in Matthew 27:42. Obviously, we understand that the passing of Jesus on the cross was a different context from the passing of a soldier. But such words resonate in my heart. No man can save himself. Now let me get quickly to the point, before I have some that stop reading at this point and call me to make sure I am OK. YES, I am “OK”, just tired. Last week was a tough week. Just like delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that comes from an intense gym session, the mind can experience the same; more importantly the spirit can as well. However, unlike January 2016, I know what to do now when I experience DOMS (delayed onset MENTAL soreness).


I see many people trying to busy themselves with activity. We think that taking the advice to “get your mind off of tragedy with activity” will save the day. Why is it that when the body is tired, we go to sleep, but when the mind is tired, we think we are supposed to do more. It doesn’t make sense. We suppress thoughts with more thoughts, thinking that the tiresome thought will go away but it is always there. More activity is not the answer. So, what is the answer?


From my own experience, I know I can’t save myself, but I know the One who can. For ten days in a hospital bed in November I mediated on one simple thought from Psalm 46, “Be still and know that I am God.” I literally didn’t have any other choice. I couldn’t even walk for the first seven days. There was nothing I could do, but be still and trust in the One who created me. This is a truth that we don’t acquiesce to, but rather a truth that we must be fully fixed upon. It was only in being still that I was able to contemplate the truth that “God is my refuge and strength a very present help in time of trouble.”


As long as we think our own mind or willpower is sufficient, we will continue to be tormented by thoughts we have no control over. We busy ourselves with activity only to find ourselves deeper in a hole of despair. There is a better way. It is in reality the only way. It’s called grace. The Apostle Paul experienced such grace when his soul was weary. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul responded, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”


Paul didn’t boast about how he got himself out of a hole. He didn’t read the Power of Positive Thinking, he didn’t listen to useless psychobabble, he didn’t focus on the Law of Attraction, or waste time in useless self-reflection. Rather he threw himself into the truth that in his weakness the power of Christ was on him.


Now here is the important matter about grace. Grace is never forced upon a person. Grace is not the self-help guru with the monstrous ego telling you to yell at the top of your lungs, “I believe in myself!” No grace often appears weak, even to the point that some may say, “He saved others, but he couldn’t save himself.” But if we press into grace, we eventually find the very same power that others found on that first Easter morning.


I know that very few people read my blogs. But today I pray for those that do, though I do not know you by name. God knows. Therefore, I pray that no matter what you are going through today you will find grace and that the power of Christ would rest on you. May this coming Easter be a reminder that God’s grace is sufficient for you.


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