What Navy Seals Can Teach Us


I confess. I love movies. It was a gift my husband brought into my life. I am not sure if I had seen more than a half dozen movies prior to our dating. His love of story played out on the big screen with plenty of action and a great musical score grabbed me.

Yes, I love a great love story and am a fan of Downton Abbey, but along the way my husband’s love of action movies has taught me more about character, great missions, and teamwork than I could have imagined. As believers, there is much we can learn from them because I see qualities in them that are too often in short supply among us.

There are two great movies rich in story line and powerful in significance that come to mind. The first is the movie, Thirteen Hours. The second is part of a trilogy we watch at least once a year since they were released: The Two Towers (expanded version), from The Lord of the Rings series (a big favorite of ours).

Were these movies different? Yes and no.

Both movies deliver a powerful story full of action and moving lines delivered in the midst of stunning backgrounds and powerful musical scores. One is an allegory written by J.R.R. Tolkien playing out the forces of good and evil, light and darkness.

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The other is a retelling of the survivors of a real life story set in the midst of the crumbling modern day Middle East where it is difficult to identify the good guys from the bad guys.

The similarity I see is that each lays out the story of a team joined together on a mission of significant importance. Lives are on the line. Trust and courage will be tested. There are no easy choices. Working together is essential. Not everyone will survive.

What makes that resonate is how it reminds me that we too often get caught up in small stories, forgetting we too are part of a great story of crucial significance.

We also are on a mission that we too easily forget. Choices can be difficult. Trust and courage will be tested. Working together is essential and not everyone will finish the mission.

What I see in a story of Navy SEALS or Delta Force missions as well as in ‘ring fellowship’ in Tolkien’s story shows me what is missing in the great story we are all a part of.

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In the stories unfolding on the screen, the teams are clear on their mission and committed to it at all cost. Whether in these two I have mentioned or numerous others like Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers, concern for self-interest gets set aside for the sake of someone and something else to accomplish the mission before them.

No matter how individualistic they may be at the outset, the mission is kept in focus. They also support one another and truly have each other’s back in the midst of great danger when all faith and hope can be lost. The small stories each may have come from may or may not have equipped them.

The key is that they are caught up in something bigger and more important than themselves.

In the quest for the mission to succeed, each is willing to lay down his life, his preferences, his doubts, and his ego for the good of everyone else. They work and fight together as one and in the midst of that they show great care and love for each other.  They also want no one to be left behind, alive or dead.

The Navy SEALS, Delta Force, Rangers, and other elite teams all operate under a similar code. What are the hallmarks that forge such teams?

  • Loyalty
  • Honor
  • Integrity
  • Ready to lead
  • Ready to follow
  • Never quit
  • Take responsibility for your actions and those of your teammates
  • Excel as warriors through discipline and innovation
  • Train for war
  • Leave no one behind

What if we, in the body of Christ, operated similarly keeping the Lord’s mission and our place in it in focus?

What would happen if we understood the significance of the unseen war we are caught up in and applied such hallmarks?

What if we stood with one another against the enemy of our Lord and us as His disciples?

What if we were committed to leave no one behind?

The Navy SEALS and the stories they live are stories we can learn from to stand more effectively with and for one another, helping each of us to be encouraged, strengthened, accountable, and focused.

When we do, we can be better than we would have been without each other.

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What Shifted?

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If limits have always been a part of humanity’s experience from the very beginning and we were and are designed to function optimally in a rhythm of light and dark, day and night, winter, spring, summer, and autumn, what seems to cause us to try harder and harder to avoid or jump over limits and limitations? We do it in every area and if we succeed, we call it success.

Have we been lulled into seduction to believe we can be limitless? We want to run faster and farther and beat records in every area. We aren’t satisfied with what we have or are, so we push ourselves harder, stay up later, go farther into debt, and chug expresso drinks and energy potions as a way to keep going. And many of us can keep that up for quite some time without remembering that even the most well-engineered machines will stop functioning as they are designed to do if their limits are not adhered to.

There was a time not that long ago when our war with limits was less intense and we even seemed to recognize a need to set them for ourselves and applauded our self-discipline. Many of you have no memory of it and are likely locked in “The Matrix” with the world pulled over your eyes.

Perhaps we are like Jenny Lind in the popular movie, The Greatest Showman, singing the song, “Never Enough.” The lyrics reveal much about her character when the words speak of never enough spotlights or stars in the sky to satisfy her soul. We may not say or sing that but are we living like that? Do we have a clear understanding of what we are searching for and would satisfy our souls?

Some of us remember when life was not so much like this. We say it was a simpler time and might recall we thought we had to work harder back then. Our jobs or work was usually more physical. We walked more than we rode. We carried and hefted and bent and looked with satisfaction at the end of a hard day’s work. We didn’t need to go to a gym we created to work out our muscles. When we finished the day’s work, we didn’t stay up late doing other things or watching TV. (TV wasn’t on air 24 hours a day.) We read more books or played games or watched the sun setting. There was honor in doing a hard day’s work.

Children learned what was modeled for them early. There was school of course but not a plethora of extracurricular activities to enjoy after school hours. We had chores to do, and our parents didn’t have time for carpools and the like. It was “normal” everyday life. Weekends had a rhythm as well. Saturdays meant more chores and finishing work and tasks not completed during the work week and Sundays meant resting.

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Sundays in good weather meant sitting on a front porch or stoop and connecting with neighbors, leisurely reading the big thick Sunday newspapers that were loaded with things for nearly every family member to enjoy. Sometimes it meant a drive to visit grandparents or other older relatives and often it meant going to a worship service of some kind with a nap at some point in the afternoon. Shops and restaurants were not open so that everyone could enjoy a “day of rest.” And never would these businesses be open on a holiday. It seemed we valued the rhythm of work and rest even if we might complain.

But maybe we decided we really wanted more of those “rest” days and didn’t want to work as hard, and dissatisfaction was sowing seeds of discontent and generating ideas about how we could make that happen so that a shift started to happen where not as many of us did physical work and we drove to cities to do other things. With extra time, we began to look for other things and ways to fill the time we thought we gained and soon we accelerated to where we are today. And we have a generation still trying to push limits and plagued with a nagging dissatisfaction many times.

But we missed some important insights in all this.

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“There is more going on than just our body’s need for rest. Our souls need rest too. But the rest that our souls need is not simply a nap. It’s the rest that comes with realizing we don’t have anything to prove anymore. We don’t have to prove we are important.

This is why we live in a culture that can’t accept sabbath; we do not believe that work is from God and for our neighbor. Instead, we believe that work is from us and for us. It’s something we pursue to become who we want to become. Our careers define us…”

Justin Whitmel Earley

Perhaps we need to look at and remember the original design built into us for work and rest and value that design and begin honoring those limitations to help us rein in the dissatisfaction in our souls and remember that only God can satisfy that itch we can’t seem to scratch.

“I believe our souls harbor a deep, nameless knowing that we were created for something far better, something unshakably solid and enduring. That ‘knowing’ is what C.S. Lewis called our ‘lifelong nostalgia’ to be reunited with our Creator.

With ancient echoes of Eden whispering in our souls, we’ve been longing for belonging ever since. And with our sinful self-wills screaming for obedience, we’ve been trying to satisfy that longing every which way but God’s.”

Sandra Wilson
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Byproducts of Wrestling with Limits

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Byproducts are what results from some other action that might be unforeseen or unintended. We often think of them as what’s left over from manufacturing or using something and it’s not unusual to hear about the word byproduct used in a negative way. One we have heard for several decades is that byproducts of tobacco use lead to cancer and assorted other diseases that can be avoided if we set a limit on using tobacco. When tobacco use first came about, no one knew or thought about what the byproducts of its use might be. How often that has happened with other things, even some medications that were supposed to help us.

When we wrestle with limits imposed on us or asked of us, it’s not unusual to think of that as a negative because it gets in the way of something we want or want to do. We can be tempted to look at what we might miss because of the limit rather than what we can gain, and gains can be significant. Most of us can agree about many of the benefits of eliminating things that could harm us or even take our lives. Some of us acknowledge that limits on what we might want to eat, or drink can provide us with better health and potentially a longer life in the bargain. If we start pondering, we can make a list of good byproducts from limits.

What we often miss is that we were designed for limits by our Creator for our good. All of creation was set in a rhythm and when any aspect of it gets out of those settings, there are problems. The rhythm of orbits keeps the universe and all the planets, stars, and more in check. The rhythm of light and dark, day and night, and seasons teach us about the need for work as well as rest.

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We started to try to violate those rhythms early on but took a giant leap in that direction when we moved from fires and candles to light the night skies with kerosene lamps and then to discovery of electricity. That discovery that has helped us in so many ways also gave us a sense of not only comfort and safety but limitlessness. Now we were not limited to work or other activities by the darkness, and we began to devalue the simpler lifestyles we had known for so long of quieting ourselves, resting, and sleeping after the sun set.

God, the Creator, modeled the limits that would help us navigate life but this discovery and so many others tempted us to believe we could ignore them and live just as well. We could get more done, play longer, and no harm would come to us. We ignored that God worked six days and rested on the seventh even though He was and is God. He rested and enjoyed the blessing of finishing work rather than working endlessly.

“But the rhythms of focusing and finishing seem to be built into the DNA of what it means to be a human being. This is exactly why treating our bodies like machines is wrong; they weren’t made to work without consistent and rhythmic pause points when we finish and rest.”

Justin Whitmel Earley

Any person who has worked in a job that requires shifts can point to the impact of what rhythm changes can do and that doesn’t account for the impact beyond our physical bodies. Our souls, minds, and hearts need rest as well. When we rest, we are not only refreshed but we also gain perspective and insight and can hear from God more clearly.

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Accepting that we are limited isn’t easy and less so if it involves something we really don’t want to have limited. But a byproduct is to grow in humility, to remind us of the rhythm in our DNA, to jog our memory that we need others and are not independently functioning beings. That too has been true from the beginning of time. Once we walk into the story of humanity in Genesis 3 and fall prey to our refusal to accept one limit, we see we are no longer able to take back the damage that it created. We are doomed and cannot save ourselves or the effects of the choice. But the God who is limitless had a plan for that as well out of his love and care, his compassion for our weakness, and it would require Him to set limits on himself by taking on human form to become the perfect sacrifice to restore us to Him as we had been before that choice.

There were many byproducts of that choice and action that we might name, but one of them was and is gratitude and a deeper understanding of limitations and how they are meant for our good much as a horse learns limitations by a bit and bridle. The author of life demonstrated that for us and if we can cease our wrestling just long enough to be still in the striving, we will discover that gift.

Recognizing the benefits of limitations creates thankfulness for areas we have freedom and helps us grow in responsibility to use it wisely instead of trying to ignore or override them. It allows us to rest in the One who never sleeps and who chose limits and understands our frame and mindset far better than we know.

We may never fully stop wrestling with limits but if we grow in wisdom and discernment, God can lead us to know we submit to them for our good and we resist them because He has called and empowered us to do so.

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Wrestling with Limits

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How do you get along with limits? Your answers might vary for any number of reasons but if we are candid with one another, most of us are not a fan of limits in some or even many areas of our lives. If you disagree on that thought, perhaps you haven’t had one imposed on you for some time. It’s one thing for us to choose a limit for ourselves and then discipline ourselves to keep it. It’s different when that limit is imposed by someone or something else.

Since my recent accident that I shared about in a recent post (Who Were They?), I have been reminded about how often I wrestle with limits. The current new limit has been about what I can eat and how to eat it because of the oral surgery I had two days after the accident. I am a fan of crunchy, crispy things like nuts, popcorn, and the like. Never do I want to soak my cereal and let it lay in the bowl until it is soggy. But that has been my lot since the surgery and will be for some weeks yet.

Initially I was limited to clear broths and soups since I cannot bite down with my upper front teeth due to what happened to them in the accident and the subsequent surgery. Add a splint to them after the operation to hold them in place and it means anything that might be small enough for me to manage with my back teeth becomes a problem since it gets caught in my splint. And then there is trying to enjoy my morning coffee that is not cold but not hot and you start to glimpse a new area of limitations I am wrestling with. (A side benefit has been the loss of about 7 pounds, but my diet and eating are definitely not a pleasure and a meal of whatever soft food I can manage is more work than pleasure.)

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But limits began for us from the time we arrived on earth and soon discovered how often we were put into a small bed surrounded by bars called a crib. It was one thing if we were sleepy or already asleep, but it was a different story if we were not and wanted to keep playing or simply not be alone and away from our moms or others in the house. So as soon as we could sort through the problem, we began to try to figure out ways to get out. The bars didn’t usually let us slip through unless we were very small, so our next effort usually meant trying to find a way to climb over the top. If we were lucky and had extra furniture near the crib, that would often help even though it meant a hazard to negotiate that could be tricky and made falling a bit more dangerous. And this wasn’t the only limit we faced. Someone else determined what we could put in our mouths and what we could eat and when. Our responses to limits were usually not ones anyone liked very much.

But it was only the beginning for us. Limits would be a part of our lives from then on and the list of them would increase as we went along. We would be taught they were for our safety and benefit or that we needed them to learn. So, we could not ride a bike wherever we wanted or whenever we wanted. We had to sit in a schoolroom for hours a day and then spend more hours studying afterward. And the list kept growing.

The adults in our lives seemed to have so much more freedom and we were eager to grow up. Little did we realize limits would be a part of each day then too. We couldn’t drive a car any way we wished or at whatever speed we chose. We needed to get jobs we didn’t always like to be able to have a place to live and things to eat. We also discovered that violating limits could have serious results. We could get hurt, fail in our school or job, or land in jail. We might even cause our own death without planning to do so.

When we got farther along in adulthood, our bodies began to limit us in ways we didn’t like either. We couldn’t just dash up the stairs (certainly without thinking about it), bend over to search for something that rolled under the couch, and we couldn’t keep eating what we wanted because our bodies disagreed, or we had indulged for so long that our weight was a major issue or had caused us medical problems we thought would never happen to us.

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Limits started long before any one of us were here. They started when there was just one before us. We were able to enjoy the beauty and lush provision of the Garden of Eden with anything we wanted except for the fruit of just one tree but a serpent who was lovely and cunning versus ugly and easy to avoid persuaded us to try the fruit of that one tree we couldn’t have. That set in motion a thirst for an unlimited life which is what the serpent intended and brought with it limits we could not have imagined. It began what turned out to be an insatiable desire for freedom and power without limits that we have been dealing with ever since.

We push ourselves beyond what our Creator designed in these efforts. We ignore that from the outset He modeled a rhythm for our lives of work and rest, organized around night and day, seasons of different kinds and depending on the culture we were a part of, we valued these things accordingly. It seemed that in time we began to devalue that rhythm and valued what we considered success more and more and that has been creating more trouble for us ever since then.

“Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we are not content to be like God, we want to be God. The weekly habit of sabbath is to remind us that God is God and we are not.”

Justin Whitmel Earley

And whatever our faith base may be, that first misstep in the Garden of Eden by a lovely cunning serpent has been whispering to us and nudging us to develop habits to our detriment ever since then. Some of us are sold out to the belief below:

“Anything worth doing requires bending your whole life toward it. On the other hand, nothing is worth bending your life until it breaks.”

Justin Whitmel Earley

My current new limits have caused me to take a deeper look at what limits mean beyond ones accidentally and hopefully, temporarily needed. What is the rhythm of my life to be if I want to be more like the God I believe in?

Next time we meet, let’s look more at this area as I continue my recovery and discover insights I may have missed when I wasn’t forced to accept new limits.

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What Message?

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Throughout every day we are all bombarded by messages that come to us from every direction. They arrive as voicemail, text, email, memorandum, and even through “snail mail” crammed into our mailboxes. Some of them are ones we are eager to hear or get and others are not. Sorting through all of them consumes time and no matter how we may have felt when this barrage first started, most of us are weary of all the time this takes out of our day (or night).

Each message (wanted or unwanted) requires a decision from us of some sort. Often that means we need to give or leave a response as well and that means we add to the clutter of messages because we add to them. Sometimes we are stunned on a day without many messages to deal with but that would be rare because many of us write messages or notes to ourselves to remember one thing or another.

Most messages come as print, audio, video, or mixed format for us. But there is something about this that we can miss in our snowstorm of messages each day.

Each of us in our person is also a message. I was reminded of that while reading in 1 Thessalonians when Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica:

The word has gotten around. Your lives are echoing the Master’s Word, not only in the provinces but all over the place. The news of your faith in God is out. We don’t even have to say anything anymore—you’re the message!”

1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 (MSG)
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Paul is stating plainly that these people had heard the message of God’s Word and it had so changed and impacted who they were in every area of their lives that they had become the message.

This wasn’t about writing down something for someone or telling someone in just words. This was a complete transformation of who they were so every aspect of behavior, speech, nonverbal expression, and choice reflected how the Word had been engrafted into them.

And people noticed.

What a message all they met or interacted with must have received, but what about us now?

We also are a message to everyone who encounters us or observes us whether we intend that or not. We convey who we are to more than those we are intentionally wanting to communicate with. We, the message, are given to our neighbors, postman, cashier, waiter or waitress, mechanic, and hundreds of others every day who observe us whether up close or at a distance. Our values and choices are conveying who we are – we are a message.

Many of us may not actually know our neighbors well. Beyond waving or saying “hello” other interactions may not happen, but the message of us gets conveyed in hundreds of ways – when and how our trash cans are left out, how we handle our lawn and landscaping, whether we scream at others who live with us, if we train our children and animals to respect property, whether we work nights or days, or are regularly seen heading out to worship on a Saturday or Sunday. All these are our message to the world and when all these messages are combined, they convey quite a sketch of us.

That can be funny or sobering to consider.

But in all the places we live and move each day is there evidence that we are believers in Christ? If so, is it because we have told them, or they have seen us carrying a Bible with us or is it because they see or sense something more? Does Christ’s life in us cause us to be a fragrance (as Paul wrote to the Corinthians) that distinguishes our message beyond the words we say or the things we carry? Whether we intend to or not we are the message and for some, the only message they will really see or read to gain a sense of whose we are. Does who we tell them we are match the message of us?

It can be far easier to say who we are than to have the message of us actually convey the words we say.

The message of us will always be the one others remember more than what we may say to them. Do our convictions need to be strengthened so that we don’t need to plan or think through the message second by second? What happens with the messages we take into us through all and any means? It is certain they shape and impact us and the message that we become.

The Apostle Paul spoke to that as well when he addressed the church at Thessalonica:

“When the Message we preached came to you, it wasn’t just words. Something happened in you. The Holy Spirit put steel in your convictions.”

1 Thessalonians 1:5-6 (MSG)

Do we need more steel in our convictions to live authentically each moment of each day?

However we choose to answer that question, or live each day, let us remember this – we are the message.

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