Richard Rohr is his men’s work has a ritual entitled “discharging your loyal soldier.” It is based on the experience of Japanese soldiers after world war II. Many soldiers were not fit or prepared to reenter civilian life. So Japanese communities created a communal ritual in which the soldiers were honored for their service to the country and then told, “The war is now over! The community needs you to let go of what has served you and served us well up to now. The community needs you to return as a man, a citizen and something beyond a solider.” This helped them transition from soldier to civilian.
The point of this ritual for men is to help them make transitions at major times in their lives. One such transition is navigating the midlife crisis. We each have a loyal soldier that has served us well in the first half of life, but usually a crisis will call into question the life of the loyal soldier for the second half of life. Rohr says that in the first half of our life we build a “container,” which includes our loyal solider. The containers give us ego strength for the first half of our journey. It has served us well as we go out into the world. But there will come a time when men realize that ego strength has come at the expense of “”soul strength.” The container, while outwardly seems strong, is empty on the inside. There is a prompting during midlife to do the “inner work” of the soul. It must be done so the second half of life can be lived well.
At this point a man has to face the fact that he is being called to die, that is, to discharge his loyal soldier. There now is the awareness of needing to let go. The container has been built, but it needs to be emptied and refilled. It can be very frightening. Who want to die to that which is familiar. Rohr puts it this way. “When you first discharge your loyal soldier, it will feel like a loss of faith, or loss of self. But it is only the death of the false self, and is often the very birth of the soul. Instead of being ego driven, you will begin to be soul drawn.” Men, if we listen to the voice of our soul, we know there is more. Our container is hallow and needs new life. It needs living water and the bread of life.
I promise you, based on personal experience, that if you are willing to discharge your loyal soldier, that is, your image of you think you are and what you want to be, your true self, who you were meant to be from the beginning will come forth. It will be a process. With it come greater freedom and authencity. Jesus spoke of this transition often. For example, in John 12:24-25, “Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.” (The Message).
One more thought about the discharging of the loyal solider. In our Western culture, we do not have the rituals of transition to help men move into the second half of life. My suggestion for any struggling with the difficulty of this transition, is to find a group of men who adhere to the principles of the 12 Steps of AA. If you can’t find a group, memorize the 12 steps and read some devotional material based on the 12 steps. The 12 steps, if embraced, will help with the letting go of the loyal soldier, so that you can go on into the new. Life “has become unmangeable…….make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God……entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character” (Steps 1,3,6). That’s the way you discharge the loyal soldier.