Spartans

When I was in the Navy SEAL Junior Officer Training Course (one of the best leadership schools I’ve ever attended), an informal reading list was passed around class.  Our most referenced book was Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield.

Historical fiction, the book tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae, and the 300 men who valiantly fought against King Xerxes and his Persian army (King Xerxes is traditionally believed to be the husband of Queen Esther, the Biblical heroine).

One of the central characters is the warrior Dienekes:

“Although extraordinary valor was displayed by the entire corps of Spartans and Thespians, yet bravest of all was declared the Spartan Dienekes. It is said that on the eve of battle, he was told by a native of Trachis that the Persian archers were so numerous that, their arrows would block out the sun. Dienekes, however, undaunted by this prospect, remarked with a laugh, ‘Good. Then we will fight in the shade.'” – Herodotus, Histories, 7.226

Throughout the years leading up to this famous battle, the reader witnesses Diekenes mentor his young protégé assigned to him in such a way that it left me hungering for a mentor like Dienekes. Kind when the boy most needed calm assurance…and oddly silent when the boy was being beaten within an inch of  his life by fellow Spartans for breaking a rule of the Agoge (rigorous training regimen mandated for all male Spartan citizens). It was all motivated by what was in the boy’s best interest. It was all loving, though some (if not most) didn’t feel loving to the boy.

The closest I have come to experiencing this type of mentorship, this type of masculine friendship, came in the most unexpected place. I have multiple combat deployments, worked with Army/Navy/Air Force Special Operators, been around some bad dudes, and I found this ‘Dienekes -to-Alexandros’ relationship in a quiet, suburban counselor…a businessman-turned-counselor, to be exact. I was trying everything (except surrendering to God) to save my marriage, and what God gave me instead was nothing short of exactly what I needed.

What’s your point?   Glad you asked. Because sometimes the help we need, we have to pay for it.  When my Granddad was dying of cancer, my Grandmother spent every dollar she needed to, to save him.  When your daughter is sick, you take her to the hospital and don’t bat an eye to pay a good physician to heal her. I hear from my friends that counseling is too expensive, and they don’t have the time to invest, and the recovery group is too far of a drive, and the filtering software is too cumbersome. Well, sometimes we gotta pay for the help we need.

And oh, how I wish our churches were full of mature, older men who have the right balance of swashbuckling, adventure-loving pirate and the God-fearing wisdom and humility of a monk, plus time and emotional energy, to take an Alexandros under their wing and into the fight with them.  But that hasn’t been my experience. Sometimes we gotta pay for it. But that is what men do: we get the help we need, however the heck we need to.

I want to leave you with words from Dienekes, one bad dude, given to his platoon on Day 3 of the Battle of Thermopylae as they were getting their asses handed to them by the Persians:

“Here is what you do, friends.  Forget country.  Forget king.  Forget wife and children and freedom.  Forget every concept, however noble, that you imagine you fight for here today.  Act for this alone: for the man who stands at your shoulder.  He is everything, and everything is contained within him.”

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