Heart of the matter: Tone those muscles and rip those abs

Building the strength to carry the wounded soldier


This is an embarrassing confession: a few months ago I got down on the floor to do a pushup only to discover I have zero upper body strength. Couldn’t even do one.

To make matters worse, every time my West Point cadet brother comes home for the holidays, he complains about the insufficiency of his physique — the guy with rippling back muscles and a six-pack. “How strong do you need to be?” our mother asks him.

“Strong enough to carry out the wounded soldier,” he replied.

Lifting 250-pound reps isn’t enough. 315 pounds, about the average weight of a football lineman, is his goal for graduation. In his opinion, 315 pounds is a “respectable amount” and demonstrates sufficient strength for a combat engineer’s position.

For me, I’m lucky if I can lift the bar, a mere 25-35 pounds.

But the army recruitment website explains combat engineers are responsible for constructing fighting positions, placing explosives, clearing obstacles and detecting mines … among other things. They must supervise teams tackling rough terrain in combat. Amidst these combat situations, it is the leader’s responsibility to get everyone through the field intact and complete the mission. And that is what motivates my brother to get in shape.

You cannot carry the wounded soldier if you are a weak soldier.

While the thought of my brother fighting on the battlefield gives me nightmares, his training mentality teaches me important things about life.

While training for ministry may not necessarily require benching 315 pounds, it does require a different kind of strength. And while the people on my team are not necessarily in physical danger, their mental, emotional and spiritual health is constantly under fire.

Ministry is overwhelming and difficult, and as future ministry leaders, we need to train to be strong enough to carry the wounded soldier. So I’ve learned that when I need help I need to ask for it, because we cannot graduate from Moody cynical, embittered and depressed and expect to be effective in ministry. If I ignore my own weaknesses and struggles now, they will not just disappear.

Having been struggling with depression for months in isolation, I was sitting across the table from a friend as he waited patiently for me to tell him what was going on in my life. “There are two things I hate more than anything else in the world,” I started.   “One, talking about how I feel. And two, asking for help.”

“Okay,” my friend replied. “But you need to do both of those things right now.”

“Right.” I nodded, inhaled, and handed him the bag of knives I had been using to cut my forearm.

We’re not impervious to enemy bullets. Especially not if we isolate ourselves. So, talk about it. Ask for help. Deal with your weaknesses and seek healing in relationships. You can’t do this alone.

Ministry work perhaps does not require being able to bench 300+ pounds; however, it does require other types of strength. How can we help the wounded when we ourselves aren’t strong? The answer is: we can’t.


This piece is considered a “standard” column in our print edition.

heart of the matter: discussions of faith and culture
by Margaret Tazioli, editor-in-chief

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