Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Four Hundred Year Test


Final exams.

No matter what bull-dog determination students grab to wrestle through their testing seasons, there is no resilience to compare with a test of a very different sort, one I learned from the traditional American Thanksgiving saga. This is the test I have come to call the Four Hundred Year Test.

We all know about the fabled pilgrims who, buffeted in England for their faith, journeyed first to Holland, and then finally to the “New World” to seek religious freedom. On their ship to America in 1620, their faith and resolve were tested with all the rigors of primitive ocean-crossing travel of that time. Blown off course, their tiny vessel, the Mayflower, brought them to an inhospitable rocky coast where they were forced to winter. The hardship of New England weather coupled with the ravages of disease and near-starvation made it a miracle that any of the little band of travelers survived at all. We owe them much for their desire for God’s direction in all they did. The foresight to anchor their every act in His Word gave our nation the foundation that has made it the strong, blessed “harbor” for freedom that it still is today.

It wasn’t until my daughter stumbled upon those ubiquitous Dear America stories that the well-worn Pilgrim tale took on flesh and bones for me. Patience, the character from whose fictitious pen the narrative unfolds, was reflecting on her personal dilemma. On the ship whose uncertain voyage literally held the fate of her family’s survival, what little confidence she had began to dwindle. Such a price her family had paid—and all the other voyagers—that she mused whether it was worth the effort. They had all put so much into the voyage—not only into the voyage but into their entire lives—to obtain that elusive goal of being able to worship their Lord in the way of their convictions. Would all these hardships just be dashed upon some allegorical rocks and sink them into oblivion in that raging ocean? Would their convictions ever count for anything? She wondered if all their efforts would even be so much as remembered in a hundred years. Would her family’s simple day-to-day choices make any difference at all in the future?

It was from that plaintive entry in a fictional diary that a flesh-and-blood picture sprang up in my mind and took on the form of a rallying cry—a call to arms for a mission much broader than any five-year goal or ten-year plan. It painted a picture in my mind of a mission bigger than life—my life, at least. It stood as a rock-solid reminder that we don’t live for ourselves, that our actions have repercussions that reach far beyond our own life span. Those Pilgrim families chose a path whose impact has echoed through nearly four hundred years of history, and has set the foundation for a powerful government with international influence.

Can what I do in my lifetime pass a four hundred year test?

I am often dismayed to read articles and letters regarding people who agonize over whether they should continue the difficult course they have chosen for their betterment or for the benefit of their family. Perhaps these thoughts come from losing the insight that brought them to their decisions in the first place. Just like Patience in the Mayflower, blown off course in the midst of the stormy Atlantic, these people have lost the vision of what they are really doing. We think we are only attempting high goals for ourselves. But we are doing so much more! What we do may possibly provide future generations with an invincible foundation rooted in God’s ways—just like the Pilgrims—that will provide them with Life that will make a difference in more than just one life span.

While our nation is chipping away at the very bedrock truth that once made it great, conscientious parents and their families are going against that tide, seeking to provide a new generation with the resilience it will take to once again find that New World—and pass it on. We still hold these truths to be self-evident, and are determined to make them part of our lives in everything we do. We want to train up our children in the way they should go, to take on the whole armor of faith, and arm themselves for effective “battle.” But the battle does get weary when we set our sites on a target close at hand.

Instead of aiming for the target of “getting through this year” or even the target of graduation to another stage of life, let’s aim for a different target—the target of knowing that our arrows will make a difference in generations to come. As we set sail into each new endeavor, consider those whom your goals, once achieved, will benefit. Remember the Four Hundred Year Test.

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