It was one of the best days of my life and probably one of his worst. I was in Annapolis, Maryland, preparing to speak at the United States Naval Academy when he walked in the door. This kid was larger than life and a “Firstie”, or a Senior Midshipman. He had started his academic career at West Point, but ultimately left to enlist in the Marine Corps. And after a few years as a Marine, God led him to the USNA. Ultimately, all that this young man ever wanted to be was a Marine Corps Infantry Officer.
For some background, all “Firsties” get selected upon graduating from the Academy. Some “Mids” head to flight school to become fighter pilots, while others go to BUD/s School to become SEALS. Another route as a newly commissioned Navy officer is to become a SWO, or Surface Warfare Officer, aboard a ship. And the really hardcore guys head to Quantico, home of the IOC or “Infantry Officer Candidate” school, where they get beat up for ten grueling weeks. Many of them don’t make the cut.
Well, there was no doubt where this kid wanted to go after graduation. He was a Marine to the core. Ironically, the selection process occurred during the week of my visit to the USNA. Every senior that I met had a big grin on his face, as they had pulled the exact duty station they wanted. Except for my friend.
After four years at the Naval Academy, he was punched in the gut when the Marine Corps opted to not select him for IOC. Instead, he was heading to a ship. And he looked like someone had just killed his dog. I remember telling this Christian young man, “Never look at things as rejection, but direction. God has something better in mind.” In hindsight, I’m surprised he didn’t kill me right there. I think we all know what it’s like when some moron puts a spiritual spin on terrible news, and here I was, dishing it out.
After two years, he suddenly appeared in my Facebook inbox. He told me how miserable he was on board a ship, and was still reeling about not being selected for Marine IOC. He asked for my prayers, then disappeared again for several months.
He recently popped up on my screen again. He asked that I keep him in my thoughts (notice he didn’t say “prayers” this time). After a little probing, he told me that he had gotten connected with a fellow officer who said he was a believer. After a while, his Christian “mentor” got him involved in some sort of ministry and ultimately drained this young officer of most of his bank account. My young friend had prayed to God for a “father figure”, because his real dad had all but abdicated the position. And he got burned. He did inform me, however, that he was able to break away from the ministry prior to being deployed (I still have no idea where he is, as it’s classified). The last entry of this particular rant ended, quite succinctly, with:
“I have decided to end my walk with God. Permanently.”
Now, I could give you all the details, but then I’d have to kill you. Not really, but let’s just say this kid got blasted by a fellow believer. I am still doing major damage control, but the long and short of it is that he’s back on the team and I’m somehow mentoring him in spite of a seven hour time difference and lousy shipboard internet.
Gentlemen, we Christians are our own worst enemy sometimes. All it takes is a guy like my buddy met to permanently repel a man from the Kingdom. This isn’t the first time I’ve met a man who threw the Jesus baby out with the sinner’s bathwater. It happens all the time.
Remember that we are dealing with men who may be in spiritual triage. Take time to get to know their stories, and show them what a man of God really is. And never, ever violate their trust.
David Dusek is founder and director of Rough Cut Men Ministries and author of Rough Cut Men: A Man’s Battle Guide to Building Real Relationships With Each Other and With Jesus. Rough Cut Men has been presented to NASCAR teams, at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy, at military bases around the world and at hundreds of churches and men’s conferences of every denomination. To find out more about the Rough Cut Men, or to book David for an upcoming men’s event, please check out roughcutmen.com.