George Washington was trapped—British forces were in front of him and the mile-wide East River was at his back. He was outgunned, outmanned and backed into a corner. His inexperienced, underequipped army had already suffered several defeats. And now they were sitting ducks, waiting to be annihilated. A defeat at Brooklyn, in 1776, would probably end the American dream of independence once and for all.
Thomas Paine wrote:
“These are times that try men’s souls…the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
Times of crisis try our souls. It’s the point where our lives, plans or hopes hang in the balance. Enemies loom large. Our back is against the wall. In the time of crisis, we are nearest to defeat.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Someone we love dies. Our child boxes up their things and moves away. The bills are due, but there is no money to pay them. A friendship falls apart. We’re faced with a menacing lawsuit. Cancer. Loneliness. Depression. Loss. These are the kinds of things that try every soul. We can’t always choose our circumstances, but thankfully, we can choose how we react to them.
Even though we might not recognize it, the hour of crisis can be our finest hour.
Sometimes, I forget that. I’m trying to remember, even as I fight battles of my own right now, that I can still choose to:
Accept things as they are, instead of how I wish they had been. Wishing for the past can block creativity. Complaining paralyzes. Pretending expends needed energy. Saying, “I wish I had,” or “I should’ve,” is an enticing trap that I often get caught in. But this can lead to defeat. I am thankful Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Call on others for help. God gives us to each other for times of crisis, but sometimes, I am too proud to ask for help. When people join together to rally behind a common cause, it is a powerful thing. The worst way to meet a crisis is to meet it all alone. Paul said it like this: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2
Trust God. This is really the most difficult choice of all. The more painful the situation is, the harder it can be to trust in God’s unfailing love and promises. Since God works slowly, subtly, and on a large scale, sometimes it’s hard for me to grasp that He is working at all. God promises that choosing to trust Him is the right path in crisis: “Call on me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you…” Psalm 50:15
Making positive choices in a crisis can cause remarkable things to happen:
Incredibly, General Howe, the British commander, didn’t attack the American forces—he simply paused. Historians and military analysts have never been able to understand why. That night a nor’easter hit, forcing the British ships away from the East River, providing a way out (or a way through) for our encircled forces.
Washington decided to use the storm to retreat, so he called on private citizens to help him. The people were eager to help. A makeshift assortment of flatboats, fishing boats, canoes and rafts moved the troops, horses, artillery and cannons. But as the morning sun dawned, there were still 8,000 troops to evacuate.
Here’s the strange part. A dense fog settled over both encampments, limiting visibility to about 6 yards. When the fog lifted, the Continental Army’s camp was completely empty. Not one person was left behind. Even though we lost this battle, our army survived. Seven years later, in 1783, the powerful British Army was defeated by our rag-tag, makeshift army.
American independence was won against incredible odds.
Maybe you are facing a crisis right now. Perhaps, you feel like your back is against the wall and there is no way out. Remember, you still have choices.
You can accept things as they are.
You can ask others for help.
You can trust that God will deliver you.
As we celebrate Independence Day this week, I hope this story of our nation’s unusual deliverance encourages you. It promises that deliverance is possible, even when it seems unlikely.
Happy Independence Day!
*My son, Bryant, made this video last year. I hope it helps you celebrate!