As the autumn leaves fell and the winds signaled a change of season, George Washington and his ragtag band of weary soldiers knew that over the coming months they had a singular goal: survival.
Winter approached, and it was coming fast. Looking at their inadequate housing and dwindling food supplies, they knew they weren’t prepared. They had just been combating the better-trained and supplied British army but knew they were about to face another foe.
Winter has contributed to the downfall of many great armies, including Napoleon’s, which was reduced from 610,000 to 100,000 during what historians refer to as Russian Winter. In 1777, General Washington and his exhausted army faced the brutal elements, knowing that to free themselves from British rule and begin a new nation, they first had to survive a winter in Valley Forge.
Two certainties faced Washington as he set up camp at Valley Forge: winter was going to be harsh, and they would not survive if they were not unified in their mission. Rallying his troops, Washington focused the men on constructing homes, securing food, and preparing for the impending winter months. Construction was hasty, but a spirit of desperate unity guided their efforts. Each small group of men had its own tasks to carry out, yet the Continental Army’s goal was one and the same. They knew their mission. And they got to work.
This wasn’t a time of retreat. This was a time of preparation. This wasn’t a time of withdrawal or hunkering down to escape the challenges around them. This was a time of remembering their bond with each other and the importance of their mission. While the soldiers suffered, no one suffered alone. The army was united by resolute faith in their cause.
This group of half-starved, largely shoe-less soldiers emerged from Valley Forge six months later as an orderly, well-trained army who won not only their battle against the elements but also their fight against the British army. History remembers Valley Forge as a key turning point in the war.
Only through their unified efforts could Washington’s men have survived winter. They understood how desperately they needed each other.
Today, as growing cultural divides wedge neighbors away from neighbors and move into the body of Christ, some suggest we retreat and pull back from culture altogether. Others suggest we assume a militant posture, fighting the culture wars with every tool at our disposal.
But like the Continental Army at Valley Forge, we believe the opportunity for the body of Christ is neither retreat nor attack but refocus. As our faith begins to look increasingly alien from the culture around us, we believe the Church has the opportunity both to recapture our affection for our brothers and sisters in Christ and reorient our faith around the greatest Commandments God has entrusted to us, that of loving God and loving our neighbors.
During this week of Thanksgiving, let’s not lose sight of the unity that binds us together. Rather, let’s tenaciously pursue it. Our lives, our relationships, and our witness to Christ depend on it. So, even amid difficult conversations or frustrating friends, let’s be people who are quick to love outrageously and to rejoice in God’s undeniable goodness to each of us.
We have so much to be thankful for.