Psalm 13:1-4 – How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, "I have prevailed"; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. (NRSV)
Having a strong interest in the First World War, I've read a great number of books on the subject, some written by historians and others being first-hand accounts. Of the two, I like the soldiers' stories the best, as they are written from the personal experiences of the people who were actually there at the time. What strikes me most in their accounts is the appalling conditions under which they lived. When they did their time serving in the front-line trenches, they were constantly covered in mud and filth while being infested with lice and fleas. Running all about them were rats, feasting on the bodies of those who had been killed but could not be buried because of the danger of enemy fire. The soldiers endured all this while facing imminent death, either by sniper fire or by the shells which rained down on them on a regular basis.
Life behind the front line was only marginally better. Frequently, their billets were in the basement of a bombed-out building where close contact with their comrades in arms meant hygiene was poor and illness was common. Lacking the lifesaving drugs that we take for granted today, death from the most mundane ailments was common.
Due to the logistics, they could not even take comfort in a good meal. With constant bombardment and poor transportation, food supplies were always limited. Much of the time, the men existed on a diet of canned meat and hardtack. A hot meal was the exception rather than the rule.
So, there they were, living in a strange country, surrounded by strangers, existing in squalid conditions, hungry, wet, and cold, and with the spectre of sudden death constantly hanging over them.
Yet, they carried on with a force of resilience that has to be admired. They obeyed orders, did their duty, and subjected themselves to constant danger. In their letters home, the unwritten rule of the trenches was "Never whimper, never complain." No one wished to upset their loved ones so far away.
As we go through difficult times or troubles, I frequently reflect on those poor soldiers who fought and died a century ago. The trials that I face can in no way compare with theirs. At the end of the day, I can still look forward to a hot meal, a warm bed, and the loving support of family and friends.
Reflecting on the endurance of these others gives me strength to carry on. When downtrodden, we need to keep the faith and pray for God's guidance. Let's look around, as there is always someone willing to lend a helping hand or ear. In addition, God gave us His only Son, Jesus, and with Him, love and hope here on earth and afterwards in heaven. Good times will come again.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, during our times of trouble, help us not to focus on ourselves but rather to remember the strength of others. Remind us that our time here on earth is short and that these problems will soon pass away. As we reflect on the perseverance of those who came before us, may we realize that we, too, have the strength to carry on. May we reach out to others when we need help, and help those in need when they need us. Your love endures forever! Amen.
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Listen while you read: "O God Our Help In Ages Past" (Lyrics)