Tag Archives: Suffering

Hell Week

“First of all, I do not want you to give in to the pressure of the moment. Whenever you’re hurting bad, just hang in there. Finish the day. Then, if you’re still feeling bad, think about it long and hard before you decide to quit. Second, take it one day at a time. One evolution at a time.

“Don’t let your thoughts run away with you, don’t start planning to bail out because you’re worried about the future and how much you can take. Don’t look ahead to the pain. Just get through the day, and there’s a wonderful career ahead of you.”

These were the words of the commanding officer given to the remaining trainees of Marcus Luttrell’s SEAL Class 226 prior to the commencement of the dreaded Hell Week, which followed the first four weeks of BUD/s training. Already 54 of the 98 who’d begun the first phase had quit or been dismissed (on account of lacking physical qualities and aptitudes necessary for doing “the work of a U.S. Navy SEAL.)

Again, I was blown away by how that advice is pretty much the same as given to us as Christian soldiers in God’s army… Live one day at a time, take no thought for tomorrow, for today has enough troubles of its own, capture every wrong thought to the obedience of Christ, don’t quit, no matter what…

Hell Week, “the most demanding six days of training in any fighting force in the world, ” started on a Sunday afternoon, with the candidates locked down in a large classroom, basically sitting around waiting. And then …

“…it was after 2030 and before 2100. Suddenly there was a loud shout, and someone literally kicked open the side door. Bam! And a guy carrying a machine gun, followed by two others, came charging in, firing from the hip. The lights went off, and then all three gunmen opened fire, spraying the room with bullets (blanks, I hoped).

There were piercing blasts from whistles, and the other door was kicked open and three more men came crashing into the room. The only thing we knew for sure right now was when the whistles blew, we hit the floor and took up a defensive position, prostrate, legs crossed, ears covered with the palms of the hands.

“Hit the deck! Heads down! Incoming!”

Then a new voice, loud and stentorian. It was pitch dark save for the nonstop flashes of the machine guns, but the voice sounded a lot like Instructor Mruk’s to me — “Welcome to hell, gentlemen.”

For the next couple of minutes there was nothing but gunfire, deafening gunfire. They were certainly blanks, otherwise half of us would have bene dead, but believe me, they sounded just like the real thing, SEAL instructors firing our M43s. The shouting was drowned by the whistles, and everything was drowned by the gunfire.

By now the air in the room was awful, hanging with the smell of cordite, lit only by the muzzle flashes. I kept my head well down on the floor as the gunmen moved among us, taking care not to let hot spent cartridges land on our skin.

I sensed a lull. And then a roar, plaining meant for everyone. “All of you, out!”

I struggled to my feet and joined the stampede to the door. We rushed out to the grinder, where it was absolute bedlam. More gunfire, endless yelling, and then again, the whistles, and once more we all hit the deck…

Then the instructors opened fire for real, this time with high-pressure hoses aimed straight at us, knocking us down if we tried to get up. The place was awash with water, and we couldn’t see a thing and we couldn’t hear anything above the small-arms and artillery fire.

Battlefield whistle drills were conducted in the midst of high-pressure water jets, total chaos, deafening explosions and shouting instructors…

Some of the guys were suffering from mass confusion. One of ’em ran for his life, straight over the beach and into the ocean… This was a simulated scene from the Normandy beaches and it did induce a degree of panic, because no one knew what was happening or what we were supposed to be doing besides hitting the deck.”

I set all this down because it really spoke to me. There are times when life just devolves into chaos, you don’t know whether you’re coming or going, what’s up or down, what is happening or what you’re supposed to be doing. Sometimes it seems all you can do is hit the deck and cover your ears. The thing that impressed me was that this wasn’t random but a deliberate, manufactured sequence and set of events and pressures, designed to induce panic.  And it was all for their benefit. For their practice and training. For their testing. And all you had to do really was hold your ground and wait until things cleared. Eventually direction would be given and then you could move.

I’ve been experiencing that situation more and more frequently of late. Where I don’t know what to do and just have to sit and wait for God to reveal the steps I should take next. I used to panic a bit because I had no direction, but gradually I’m learning to accept it as temporary and just wait. But Marcus’s description of the Hell Week activities brought into clarity for me the fact that not one chaotic situation that takes over my life is out of God’s control. In fact, it’s not only not out of His control, but He designed it in every detail just as much as those SEAL instructors designed theirs. Better, actually, since He’s God…

In our recent Bible class, Pastor said that God brings glory to Himself by rescuing us. He’ll let us get into a jam or even lead us into one, just to give us the opportunity to trust Him. And it’s in our backing off and giving the problem to Him that we glorify Him. Our problem, Pastor said, is that we keep trying to solve our problems ourselves with our own power. Rather than give it over to Him and wait… Rather than…

Be still, and know that I am God.

How Serious are You?

Continuing with thoughts generated from the book, Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell…

The SEAL training at this point was intense and about to get a bit more so, as described in this bit on his first day in BUD/s First phase, the first day of the first of four weeks that would culminate in Hell Week.

So there they are, class 226, assembled outside the barracks two hours before dawn on Coronado island, the temp about 50 degrees (which is COLD for an Arizonan!). Their class leader presents them to the instructor and without so much as a good morning, he orders them to hit the surf…After that it’s pretty much continual exercise…

By 0600 I had counted out more than 450 push-ups. And there were more, I just couldn’t count any more. I’d also done more than fifty sit-ups. We were ordered from one exercise to another. Guys who were judged to be slacking were ordered to throw in a set of flutter kicks.

“The result of this was pure chaos. Some guys couldn’t keep up, others were doing push-ups when they’d been ordered to do sit-ups, men were falling, hitting the ground facedown. In the end, half of us didn’t know where the hell we were or what we were supposed to be doing. I just kept going, doing my absolute best, through the roars of abuse and the flying spray of the power hoses: push-ups, sit-ups, screwups. It was now all the same to me. Every muscle in my body ached…”

When they finally finished, he was so exhausted he could hardly eat breakfast.

It was, of course, all by design. This was not some kind of crazed Chinese fire drill arranged by the instructors. This was a deadly serious assessment of their charges, a method used to find out, in the hardest possible way, who really wanted to do this, who really cared enough to go through with it, who could face the next four weeks before Hell Week, when things got seriously tough.

“It was designed to compel us to reassess our commitment. Could we really take this punishment? Ninety-eight of us had formed up on the grinder two hours earlier. Only sixty-six of us made it through breakfast…”

The parallels to the Christian life here are uncanny. Just like Jesus, we learn obedience through the things that we suffer, but we also have the opportunity to determine just how important God and His word really are to us. Is it all lip service? Will be serve Him, be loyal to Him only for what we can get out of it? Only so long as things go well for us? And when they stop going well, will we throw in the towel. Or, in SEAL training parlance, “ring the bell?”

God knows, of course, but we don’t. When periods of intense adversity and confusion come, will we be like those seedlings in the parable of the sower that were choked out by the worries and cares of the world? Or will we be like the tree planted by streams of water, whose roots go deep so that it will not fear when the drought comes. Will we be like those trainees who made it through SEAL training, recalling why they were there, determined to give it their all, adamant about not quitting.

That’s just some human, transient activity. Noble for time, perhaps but ultimately temporal. How much more should we, enlisted as trainees in the Lord’s army, keep recalling why we are here, determined to give our Saviour our all, resolutely plugging forward one step at a time, no matter what? SEAL training is something of and in the world. Our training and service is for time and for eternity. Besides, to whom would we go? Who else has the words of truth?

It helps me to look at times of adversity and affliction as training rather than some random misfortune. My life may seem to have devolved into some kind of “crazed Chinese fire drill,” but I can know it has purpose in it, because my Instructor is the one who knows all, who delights in righteousness and justice and grace. SEAL instructors keep close tabs on their trainees, they know exactly what can be withstood without permanent injury and guide the instruction down to the very last increment of pressure that can be tolerated. Confusion, chaos, exhaustion, discomfort, even agony… they know where the line is, even if the recruits do not. Just as God knows our line, though we do not.