Chaplaincy and Change: How God Refines Us

When you think about our country’s military personnel—and the sacrifices they make to ensure freedom—do you ever think about the chaplains who serve in each military branch? It’s imperative, also, that we take note of the families of those chaplains. 

I recently spoke with an LCMS navy chaplain I know, a man of long service and impeccable character. My husband—also an LCMS chaplain in the navy but of comparatively short service thus far—is currently deployed in the southern hemisphere, and my seasoned chaplain friend asked me how the deployment was going. My default answer to that question these days usually expresses contentment that this deployment is only three months long instead of nine (the length of my husband’s last deployment), so that’s how I responded—plus an added “We’ve been doing pretty well—no big drama” thrown in for good measure.  

A Better Attitude 

As we chatted, this chaplain told me of a time when he’d been away from his wife and children for a long deployment. He’d felt bad about the separation. He’d told his wife he was sorry for how hard it must have been for their family. Her answer to his sentiments was a simple one but one that surprised him. It surprised me as well when he told me, because I’d never quite considered separation in this way:  

“How do you know God isn’t growing me during this time?” 

First, this chaplain’s wife is simply an incredible person. But my appreciation and respect for her grew tenfold after her husband shared this anecdotal moment of their marriage with me. What a fantastic attitude to take during a time rife with challenges for most families.  

Truthfully, the more I reflect on it, despite significantly fewer months at sea and the lack of any real problems at home, this deployment has been hard for me, too. It has felt a bit like that movie Groundhog Day but (mostly) without the comedy: the same daily routine, getting-ready-for-bedtime drama, circular arguments with my seven-year-old doppelganger, and uninspiring meal prep every day, ad nauseam 

It has also felt like Murphy’s Law is attacking us—any little thing that can go wrong has gone wrong. In more theologically correct terms, the devil has taken his potshots with glee (cluster headaches, Lyme disease exposure, surgical complications for our family dog, a catalog of random wildlife encounters in our home, sleep regression woes, and a marked escalation of inflexibility as my daughter with Down syndrome becomes a preteen, for example—all without the benefit of a two-person parenting team). 


But God takes care of us always, and, as stated so beautifully above, He also truly is growing us during these times. I can’t overlook this fact or decline to give it due acknowledgment by insisting we’re “basically fine.” 

“It is good for me that I was afflicted,” says the psalmist in Psalm 119:71. I’ve reflected on that statement a lot these days. Affliction—ennui, Murphy’s Law, the devil’s interference, or sometimes worse—is the catalyst to building resilience. So often my prayer is “Lord, help me be patient,” but praying to endure affliction is not a magic spell that poofs! and fixes deficient patience. From personal experience, I think it means more that God will give us situations where we learn to build that patience.  

Application for All 

Look at your own struggles. Might they be something God intends for your good? To strengthen your resilience? To shape you for service to others once the refining process concludes? 

I mean ... it’s not fun. Such processes of refinement and endurance-building are uncomfortable. But let’s try to reframe it. The result of the process is a blessing, and such crucibles reshape those of us who experience them, enabling us to help other people down the road with our eventual wisdom. We learn to gird against the devil, who relishes the opportunity to “mess with us” during such vulnerable times. We learn to see God’s hand at work in His unfailing provision 

And, for the chaplain’s family, we learn to embrace the adventure that is this ministry at its core. 

I hope that anyone who reads these words will turn their thoughts to the families of chaplains who are far away from home. Indeed, that is my basic overall desire. But the concept applies to everyone amid a state of challenge, so I also truly hope you will embrace the opportunities for growth that emerge during your hard times—and with the same attitude of openness we heard earlier.   

More important than any civic freedom is our freedom from Satan’s clutches through Christ’s redeeming blood and in our joyful service to one another. We will all flourish more readily with fellowship, friendship, and willingness that emulates our Lord’s. 

(And for anyone in the pastoral office considering chaplaincy: take this article as reassurance that, though difficult, this work guarantees tremendous growth for chaplains and their families—aside from the benefit of serving a wider and wilder mission field. It is, without a shred of doubt, 100 percent worth it!)

Scripture: ESV®.

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Written by

Kelly Nava

Kelly is a Navy chaplain’s wife and a mama of two. She holds a BA with a double major in English and theatre from Concordia University in Irvine, California (2006) and an MA in teaching: speech and theatre from Fontbonne University in St. Louis, Missouri (2008). Kelly is a freelance copyeditor, a sometimes-writer, an aficionado of life’s simple pleasures, and a self-professed universal stick in the vein of G. K. Chesterton’s writings.

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