In Bernard Cornwell's historical novel "Sharpe's Eagle," the author recounts a battle in 1809 in which the not yet Duke of Wellington Wellesley's army is arrayed in Talavera, Spain against Napoleon's forces. One thread of the story describes a "bought" Lt. Colonel looking over the battalion he raised with his own money and through his own political connections in England. A political rival of Wellesley back home, Sir Henry Simmerson is anxious for the opportunity to prove Wellesley reckless and himself worthy of becoming a "new kind" of General, more sensible, more intellectual, more - scientific.
In this particular battle, and from his vantage point above, Lt. Colonel Simmerson surveys his troops and the French that oppose them. His enemy are arraying fresh battalions agains the British line after the British successfully repulse an initial French attack. Wise and skilled commander that he sees himself to be, Simmerson perceives Wellesley's recklessness anew and in it, his own road to Glory. The French will destroy Wellesley's army and his own troops. But he, Lt. Colonel Sir Henry Simmerson, will be hailed in the British Parliament as the one commander with the foresight to withdraw from the coming onslaught, preserving his troops - if he withdraws them now. He proceeds to order the retreat of his battalion. In turn he leaves a gaping hole in the British Line and endangers the balance of Wellesley's forces. Nestled in the flower of Simmerson's withdrawal are the seeds of a self-fulfilling prophesy.
In the circumstance of our lives, how often do we face risk, and rather than engaging in the battle that threatens our peace, succumb to the temptation to withdraw? How often do we try to preserve the very thing that is needed right now? How often do we conjure up excuses that masquerade as wisdom? Like the foolish servant given a single gold bar in the parable of the talents, how often have we said "See Master, here is your talent! Knowing you to be a hard man I buried it!" And how often, like that foolish servant, are we astonished that our wisdom is not only rebuked, but condemned?
As I turn 53 today, I am acutely aware of the times that, like Simmerson and the foolish servant, I have disengaged from a challenge in order to preserve for another day something that was intended to be used in that very moment? I am reminded of the words I've used to explain away my action. Some call these excuses, others cowardice. But I am also aware that I'm here for a purpose, that I am to steward the resources of my life, my job, my savings, my family, my friends, my talents, and my gifts. These are not set pieces of a pretend life, or trophies for some retired afterlife. They are gifts from my Creator to be relied upon now, and for such a moment as this.
In the parable of the talents, the wicked servant's now un-buried talent is given to the servant who had previously proven his worth and earned his Master's trust. In Cornwell's story, Simmerson is relieved of duty as he is retreating from the field as a consequence of his cowardice. His battalion is re-deployed by a leader who was willing to act with the resources at hand, resources intended (and needed) for precisely that moment.
We may not control all outcomes, but we do control our actions. Do we engage, or do we withdraw?
Oh, and 517? That's the time I woke up this morning. And today's blog is one of today's challenges I had to engage. You can judge its outcome.