Are you troubled this holiday season?
Take courage! You’re not alone. A famous American General passed through his darkest valley during one Christmas season.
In 1776 Thomas Paine had written, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Never truer words. He certainly knew what he was writing about. Paine set camp with Washington at Valley Forge at the time. It was especially trying for General George Washington. In fact, the winter of 1775–76 would be his darkest holiday season.
Things could not have been worse for the Commander and Chief of the fledgling Colonies in December of 1776. General Washington had not won a single victory in the War for Independence. First, the British drove him from the field at the Battle of Long Island. Then he narrowly escaped total destruction at New York. From battlefield casualties, expired enlistments, disease, and desertion, Washington lost ninety percent of his forces. Popular support for the American cause stood at 33%. The British support also stood at 33%.
On top of the gloomy strategic picture was Washington’s personal suffering from the criticism and schemes of subordinates. Three of his generals—Horatio Gates, Charles Lee, and Thomas Conway, were British-born. They had all served in foreign commands and two even attained the rank of general officers. These men all openly criticized Washington and believed themselves far better qualified for his job.
Now Washington was in retreat. The vestiges of his demoralized, ill-clad, ill-equipped and ill-fed Army were west of the Delaware River. In a letter to his brother, Washington confessed, “I think the game is pretty near up.” But no letter revealed the depths of his despair as did this note to his cousin, Lund Washington.
“…If I were to wish the bitterest curse to an enemy on this side of the grave, I should put him in my stead with my feelings; and yet I do not know what plan of conduct to pursue. I see the impossibility of serving with reputation, or doing any essential service to the cause by continuing in command, and yet I am told that if I quit the command inevitable ruin will follow from the distraction that will ensue. In confidence I tell you that I never was in such an unhappy, divided state since I was born”.
But Washington knew that the country needed more than popular support for the war to be won. America needed leadership – leadership to exercise courage and commitment to the cause in the face of such a crisis. In a bold move, Washington pulled off a surprise attack on the Hessian Regiment at Trenton. On the day after Christmas and won a stunning victory! American took over 900 Hessian soldiers as POWs with only two American casualties. Less than two weeks later (on January 2–3, 1777) Washington won two more victories against British forces under General Cornwalis at Trenton and Princeton.
Make Use of the Boosts
These decisive American victories so boosted the morale of the country that within weeks 8,000 new recruits enlisted. This reenergized the Army to fight on. Six more years of bloody fighting would follow. But Washington had learned an important lesson. Everyone passes through a deep, dark valley of despair when all seems to be lost. But we will once again reach the heights of joy. He also learned that courage and perseverance in the face of conflict and danger will gain the inevitable triumph.
If this holiday season presents you with some challenging tasks, then take courage. Learn from the example of a brother in arms from the past. Consider also the encouragement from the Scripture: “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand” (Isa. 41:10, New Living Translation).
Dear Father in heaven, please give me the courage and strength to do what is right. Help me fulfill the work You’ve called me to do. Amen.