Strong spiritual fitness helps in challenging times

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Jonathan Wade
  • 78th Air Base Wing chaplain
On a bright day, a 5-year-old boy and his mother were driving home after spending time with his grandparents. 

After stopping at a four-way stop, the mother checked traffic and proceeded on her way. Out of sight behind a hill, a woman approached the same intersection driving more than 90 mph. 

The woman was heavily intoxicated. She missed the stop sign and slammed into the car, instantly killing the 5-year-old child and sending his mother to a long stay in the hospital. It was just before Christmas, and the toys and other gifts had to be returned, unopened.

Of life's most devastating events, the loss of a child, especially a young child, might just be the most difficult of all to recover from. 

The young mother would never see her son go to his first day of school, never watch him graduate, never cry at his wedding, or hold her grandchildren. In one terrible moment, because of a foolish and selfish decision, a life was lost, and the dreams of a wonderful future with it.  It is in moments like those that our spiritual resiliency is most important. 

In AFI 90-506, which discusses Comprehensive Airman Fitness, the Air Force defines spiritual fitness as "the ability to adhere to beliefs, principles, or values needed to persevere and prevail in accomplishing missions." It is the ability to find meaning in life, a meaning that transcends just the physical. 

Some find this meaning in formal religious practice, others in a belief in a higher power, others in a very personal practice of their beliefs. A spiritually resilient person seeks out purpose in life, in the context of all his or her relationships, including the physical and spiritual. It is honoring life by fulfilling a greater purpose in service to humanity. 

I learned spiritual resilience and my practice of spiritual fitness from my family, especially my mother. You see, it was my brother who was killed on that terrible day. 

I watched my mother take the most horrible of experiences and transform it into a personal strength through her deep faith. Rather than allow hatred and loss to consume her, she embraced her pain like a refining fire to strengthen her resolve to love and care for every person she encountered. 

Her beliefs and values undergirded her sense of purpose in caring for suffering people, friend and foe alike, for the rest of her life. Our task in the Air Force is to fly, fight and win. 

Such a calling is at once both rewarding and fraught with many significant stressors. It's vital to the mission, to ourselves, and to our friends and families that we are resilient, mentally, physically, socially and spiritually. 

I encourage you to actively strengthen your spiritual fitness, your beliefs, values and practices in times of peace, so that if and when a challenge comes, you, with an unwavering purpose, are more than ready to meet that challenge with personal and professional success.