Have you ever stood at the start of a long journey or difficult project and felt a little overwhelmed? It’s easy to see a big mountain (whether literal or figurative) in front of us which represents an “unknown” set of challenges as an imposing or intimidating obstacle to our goal of completing the journey or project.
Now, fast forward to a point in time when you look back over your shoulder and are amazed at:
- How far you’ve come
- How much you’ve learned
- How impressed you feel that you overcame (or are productively overcoming) your “mountainous obstacle”
These are two VERY different feelings, right? Fear and trepidation or uncertainty at the start versus a grounded sense of accomplishment upon substantial completion.
First published in 1930, the story teaches the value of optimism and hard work. Interestingly, the National Education Association named it among the “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children”.
If you’re not familiar with the story, a train load of “good things for boys and girls” that reaches a station along the way to its destination, but can’t manage to get over the mountain since its engine has broken down. Other engines come along who refuse to take that train over the mountain for various reasons (each a poor, selfish excuse for not getting involved or trying to help). Only one small engine that has never been over the mountain is willing to give it a try. As he climbs the mountain he calls out “I think I can, I think I can” until he’s reached the summit and recognizes that he was stronger than he realized and was able to achieve the summit. Going down the other side of the mountain, he chugs and chuffs these words “I thought I could! I thought I could!”
The celebration is well deserved for the same reasons we push scouts to take appropriate risks within the program — to try new things, to accept real responsibilities and to push themselves to grow in maturity even as they grow in stature.
As adults, we face new challenges all the time. Generally, we have gotten used to pushing through our fears and concerns to tackle new projects and learn new skills. However, there are some projects which still inspire a significant pause to consider the cost of starting and failing to finish or having it go poorly.
Imagine the prospect of a team of men who decided to build a new youth leadership program from scratch. A program uniquely suited to their faith practices, ideals, love of outdoors, and interest in teaching leadership through shared responsibility. Could it be done? How long would it take? Do they have the requisite skills and talents to accomplish such a huge task?
Skeptics could easily assail this sort of massive undertaking especially considering the dynamics of the volunteers. Generally, they:
- were geographically scattered across the USA;
- had never met each other personally or professionally;
- came from slightly different and possibly unfamiliar faith practices (and wanted to adapt the program to fit each major group of Christianity: Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant)
- could only devote a couple hours per week after coming home from their full time “day jobs” (but many did much more than their fair share and without seeking the limelight)
- were willing to stay up late to accommodate 10 PM (eastern) conference calls so that West Coast participants could join at 6 PM local time.
- were on the receiving end of skepticism and ridicule for making the effort or being labeled “disloyal” to other existing programs who are struggling to grow their own membership numbers (where membership numbers seem more important than the message).
Since February, I’ve been watching a little blue engine chug and chuff. I’ve heard its “I think I can, I think I can” echoing off of steep canyon walls. I’ve seen the “heart” (faith and dedication) expressed by these men who embody Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” and I know that’s the reason why they had optimism all along. They were not placing their faith in themselves, but in God.
They recognized that unless this program is built by God, all who labor to build it would do so in vain (psalm 127:1) and that they’re building it for the benefit of generations yet to come.
Best of all, this weekend, they get to say; “With God, we knew we could! With God, we knew we could!” as they clear the first summit on their way to the big city that’s still a ways down the track (a mid-journey celebration as we continue to walk in faith the rest of the way).
Even detractors of their efforts must take a pause to acknowledge that it’s an amazing thing that’s being accomplished from a sheer construction perspective.
Bringing It Home
During my time in the scouting program, I’ve been challenging myself to understand how scouting ideals and Christian ideals either parallel each other or potentially stand in conflict against each other. You see, that same verse in Psalm 127 tells me that if scouting’s goals are divergent from God’s goals, I’m spinning my wheels (wasting time) when I could be overcoming those personal mountains (responsibilities) in my life.
Interestingly, Psalm 127 continues in verses three thru five to talk about the value of the gift of children in building a strong family unit or team. It’s interesting to connect the thought of being certain that we’re not vainly wasting our energy with the fact that children are among the most valuable gifts we can receive from God….so we better be sure that we’re following God’s commands.
Deuteronomy 6:1-9 explains some of the expectations of me as a father and this is amplified in Psalm 78:4-8 which states:We will not conceal them from their children, But tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. For He established a testimony in Jacob And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers That they should teach them to their children, That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, That they may arise and tell them to their children, That they should put their confidence in God And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments, And not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that did not prepare its heart And whose spirit was not faithful to God.
One of the ways that I can set up my sons to carry on this multi-generational legacy is to teach them from their earliest ages about these responsibilities, and how to carry that message to their sons’ sons as well.
My God has provided a clarion call to me as a Father, which will always trump my responsibilities as a Scoutmaster. Although I may renew my BSA registration to help other scouting families who are committed to the BSA program (because I’m fulfilling my obligation as an “interfaith Eagle” in that role as Scoutmaster), I may ask my sons to try something new since its closer to what God has directed our family to do as we establish our multi-generational legacy rooted in Him, not rooted in BSA’s interfaith efforts to please everyone while pleasing no one at all.
For me and my family, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15)