This guest article was submitted by Officer Paul Milone. Paul serves at a large police agency and is approaching retirement. He has some wise and practical advice for others who are nearing the end of their law enforcement careers:
It is a Saturday night at 1130pm. I find myself in a precarious, yet very comfortable position in life. I am at a SWAT briefing for a No Knock Search Warrant on a Homicide suspect who just killed another man over nothing really. And at the briefing, I get the assignment of “Ram One”. I’ll be the guy standing in front of a door, with a 60 pound ram, because my job is breaking down the door to a suspected killer’s house. This is nothing new, as I have been part of this SWAT team for well over 16 years at this point. And I am the “ram guy” about 9.5 times out of 10. I have breached over 1000 doors by now.
As the briefing continues, I am surrounded by 12 of my best friends. Soon, pictures of the homicide suspect and his house are being passed around. The team is being briefed by the Homicide Lieutenant and our SWAT Team Leader. We are given the details of the homicide, expectations of weapons, dogs, security cameras, barricaded doors, family members….. We take the information in like we are planning to go out to lunch. No real fear. We listen, but being as this is a “normal day”, we also have sidebar conversations about our own little tasks in the bigger picture of the operation. It is simply what we do.
With the briefing complete, we gather our gear, then huddle up for a quick team prayer before we set off into the dark of the night. Yeah, a team prayer. We ask God to watch over us while we “do his work”, while going after the bad guys. The prayer is something I instituted several years back as a way to alleviate any nerves about what we are going to face. It made a difference in the demeanor of the guys that was evident by all who witnessed what we did.
We ride in the van to the residence, disembark, I ram the door and we locate the suspect on the couch of the front room, gun on the couch with him. Successful mission. Nobody got hurt.
This is a true story, and one of many almost exactly like it. In fact, between Gang, Narcotics & SWAT warrants, I have served about 2300 search warrants in my career. I have rammed over 1000 doors, and never really had any fear.
In fact, the reason for this reflection is this: I quite often relate this story or a similar one to people when they seem apprehensive to open a new chapter in their life. When it’s time for them to make a change and “go thru that next door” a lot of people can be hesitant. They simply don’t know what is on the other side. I would quite often tell them to trust that God has a plan, and to simply move forward. And I believed it, or so I thought.
Prior to being a police officer, I was a counselor of sorts. And given the positions I attained on the police department, I have found myself being the counselor to other cops when life deals those curve balls, dangers, pain, suffering, unknowns… And my go to discussion was to tell them that going through the next door of life was easier than they thought. Just Knock, and He shall open the door for you.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)
I was confident in telling them that all of us go through dozens of doors every day. Bathroom doors, bedroom doors, main doors, garage doors, doors at work, quick shop, grocery store… Doors are everywhere. And we almost never fear what is on the other side. So why is this next door of life so hard to open? Just knock and go through it, have no fear.
Well it all sounded good in my head and really cool when it came out of my mouth over the years. But at the time, the doors I was going through were like the one described in the first part of this reflection. And to me, those are the easy doors.
But when it came time for me to retire from the swat team last year, that next door I had to open was the hardest door I had come into contact with. I felt like when I went through it, it slammed behind me and it was instantaneously & permanently locked. No going back. I also felt like it was a door to nowhere. Like walking into a massive, dark, empty room. No signs of where to go from here, no receptionist, no lights leading the way. Just me in a dark silent room… So much for being confident in the words of Matthew 7:7
I found myself wondering if my faith was fraudulent. If I was a big talker but not a believer. Heck, I teach faith formation at my church. I attend weekly mass. I pray daily. I give witnesses to my faith in front of large groups. I have accepted Jesus Christ as my savior… When we fear about going through our next door, trust in the Lord our God that He has already seen where we are going because to Him, the future is already a memory. Click To Tweet
But this door I went through kicked my butt so to speak. And to top it off, I am about to go through one more door that causes me some concern. I am retiring from the department here in a few days. The final door for my career. In my mind, I think I’m ready, but I thought the same thing when I left the swat team. So I wonder if my reaction will be the same. So I am praying about this door. Not praying that God has chosen a good path for me, but rather praying that I can lift up my will to that of Gods will. Praying that He can help me follow the path laid out before me.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
I do know that God has always been with me. He has led me to where I am now. Just 13 years ago, He grew tired of waiting on me to come to Him, so God came to me. He took this broken down, self-absorbed, callous, impatient control freak and made me new.
I waited patiently for the Lord; And He reached down to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the mud; And He set my feet on a rock, making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear And will trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40)
I can’t say that I waited patiently for Him though. He came to me when I was not even looking. Now I follow Him, even though I sometimes try to go back to the old Paul and be in control of everything. It is yet another learning point, that when we give our lives to Christ, it is not the end of our journey, rather it is simply the beginning. We will stumble along the way. We will revert to our old selves once in a while. We will forget to put on the armor of God and try to go it alone….
Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11)
So as I reach for that door handle to turn it one last time (before I retire) I must remind myself of the words of David and pray :
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper. (Psalm 118)
So for everybody else, remember that when we fear about going through our next door, it is generally just fear of the unknown. And therefore we can overcome that fear by simply trusting in the Lord our God that He has already seen where we are going because to Him, the future is already a memory.