Occasionally, I startle someone I have known for years by singing battle hymns. “Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe, forward into battle, see his banners go.” I try to insert this as comic relief during a serious discussion, but eyes generally widen in disbelief, not humor.
I swear, I don’t do this very often.
Like many Christians, I was raised on the war of principalities. We sang songs about “marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus, going on before.” We were taught to see life on earth as a source of perpetual tension, that as the Devil’s domain, the earth is something to overcome. God ordained us to assert our dominion over the fish and the fowl, over all the beasts of burden that walk the earth– which includes, of course, our primal selves, long ago cast out of Eden. We were at constant war against the flesh, whether it was managing our weight (required daily weigh-ins), or resisting cold or heat or fatigue, while valiantly overcoming the desire for affection, comfort, and security.
I took for granted the notion that preparing for war is an essential component of growing up.
At chapel, we showcased a mannequin onto which we dressed layers of military garb. “Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” We ceremoniously placed the helmet of salvation on the wooden head, the breastplate of righteousness on the planked trunk, the sword of the spirit into the rigid fingers of one hand, the shield of faith to quench the fiery darts of the wicked in the other. We wrestled not against flesh and blood, but “against the rulers of the darkness of the world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” We girded ourselves with Truth, to withstand the temptations of pleasure.
No one defiled their bodies with tobacco, liquor, or other harmful habits. We had white glove tests and timed endurance runs, hiked in the snow and rain with loaded backpacks, tackled family KP and Police Call at the command of a whistle. “Let this faith of mine is tried, for the Lord is on my side, I am ready, I am ready, I am ready you can pass the cross to me.”
I am still a light sleeper, attentive and on call, resting with one eye open, waiting for an attack I am prepared to predict. As Christian soldiers, we march onward, for “hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise; brothers, lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.”
I don’t know how common this sort of training is, but I have not yet found it useful in my civilian life. I resent this sometimes.
There is something to be said for self-discipline, regardless of its origins or its misuse.
Today, on Thanksgiving, I am acutely aware of pleasure and of freedom, of their cost and their value, largely because these were denied me. I am grateful I was raised in a family, no matter how dysfunctional, who taught me to fight for what I believe in. Even if what I believe in now is distinctly different from my upbringing, I know how to fight for my values, to court support, to share the struggle with other likeminded believers. I was taught to build stamina, not dependency, and this has its own logic, and its own reward.
As a mother, I have no intention of teaching these particular lessons to my offspring. But I will give abundant thanks this day for not having to.