In 2004, Michael Beach was a 32-year-old Baptist pastor, living in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his wife and children.
“The war in Iraq was in full swing, and I noticed issues with the returning soldiers. I saw families struggling,” he says.
Someone needs to get involved, he thought, so he joined the military chaplaincy program of the Army Reserves. In 2009, he was deployed to Baghdad as an Army chaplain. He and his team served 800 to 1,200 troops.
“My job was to provide spiritual support,” he says. “That included a lot of in-depth counseling, covering financial, workplace and relationship issues. Soldiers deal with a lot of stressors and have post-traumatic stress symptoms for many reasons, including the ache of separation, fear of uncertainty and worry about their family.”
One evening, Beach walked across the deserted field to his chapel and looked up at the night sky. He was counseling soldiers night and day; he wanted to be present for each person. But sometimes his Baptist upbringing got in his way. He didn’t want to save the troops; he wanted to listen to them. In the late 1990s Beach had discovered Unity, through reading minister Eric Butterworth. He’d been quietly reading Unity literature for years, but he felt guilty for doubting what he’d been taught at home and in seminary. That night in 2009, however, his guilt vanished. He felt a new sense of calm and connection. “I was done carrying around ideas that made no sense to me,” he says. “I realized I didn’t have to rely on an external God.”
He returned to his quarters, logged onto the Internet, looked up Unity and downloaded Unity Online Radio programs.
“The more I read and listened to Unity, the more I saw myself,” Beach says. “Unity validated my intuition to accept people as they were and to help them keep functioning.”
Although he was constantly caring for soldiers with PTSD symptoms, he assumed he was immune to such problems. But every day was a struggle: He worked ceaselessly, skipping meals and rarely exercising. He isolated himself, feeling he couldn’t rely on others.
When he finally realized these were symptoms of compassion fatigue, he tried to take better care of himself, taking time off and confiding via Skype with his wife, who had served in Kuwait and understood the rigors of war. Still, Beach returned home in 2010, exhausted and wrung out.
“I put my military gear in the garage, and said, ‘I have nothing left to give,’” he says.
“When I took off my uniform, I gave myself the freedom to step away from giving. That was a gift to myself.”
He returned to his work as a hospice chaplain, and he has since started a practice as an insurance advisor.
Unity is an ongoing gift that Beach has relied on as he deals with all he’s encountered during his service.
“I have always believed that God is everywhere,” Beach says. “Encountering those beliefs in Unity really validated the ways I interacted with people: I looked at people and I saw the divine. That outlook helped me deal with some of the situations in Iraq.”
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2012 issue of Unity Magazine®.