Played out exactly a century ago, the First World War was fought in fields, towns, and farms of Western Europe. Preceding the technology that changed how wars engaged themselves (even as soon as twenty years later), men spent the entirety of the engagement in dug out trenches that stretched across the landscape.
While many died at the end of a bayonet or at the result of an enemy’s fired weapon, the turn of the century still saw many military (and civilian) deaths come due to diseases or sicknesses that just went untreated. This was showing an improvement from the centuries before, where 2/3 of Civil War participants died from non-combat-related reasons.
Besides the obvious answer of “dying,” when asked of some of the things that scared men the most in WWI, the answer often came back to an epidemic that permeated trenches occupied by men in any uniform – Trench Foot.
Trench foot was a disease that caused a soldier’s feet to both go numb and swell to 2-3 times their normal size. Once that happened, you experienced one of two results. One, over time of taking care of the disease, the swelling would decrease and feeling would come back. But, that process was described as being so painful that grown men would stay awake all hours of the night screaming and crying. The worse option was (if left untreated or treated unsuccessfully) it would turn gangrenous, meaning that the soldier would almost assuredly lose one or both feet to necessary amputation to keep it from spreading up their legs.
Mid-war, protocol changed to combat the problem.
Soldiers were then required to have no less than 3-4 pairs of socks with them at all times and to change at least twice per day, hanging the pair they took off up to dry and avoid the cold, wet conditions. Whale oil grease was brought in by the drums to coat over feet as a protection before socks were put on each time. And, men were assigned to check the feet of other men during shift or watch change.
Why such a shift in focus? The expectation in the early 20th century was surely that war meant death and disease; the risk of life and limb, so to speak.
Because they knew what we often fail to give pause and examine.
The rest of the body will never reach its full potential without a firm, healthy foundation.
It is easy to be an armchair quarterback.
To sit in a comfortable position, far away from the battlefield, and be able to make decisions better than the person that is taking fire. Whether it is to question the coach on who she puts in the game, the elected official on how they voted on a piece of legislation, or (quite literally) the quarterback on what throw he made while the defensive end was two steps away from landing a crushing blow.
We find it quite easy to say who should be playing even though we weren’t in practice the past few days.
We pass judgment on the voting records, even though we had only a fraction of the information necessary to really be able to speak on the matter.
We just know that we would have throw to the wide open slot receiver on the left side instead of throwing the interception across the middle. (Even though two days ago you missed a day of work because you hurt your shoulder reaching for the bag of chips on the top shelf.)
Bottom line: check your heart.
In his second correspondence to the church at Corinth (Or, if you’re the current President, you find it in “Two Corinthians”), Paul wraps up that letter by reminding those believers of just that.
“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves!” (2 Corin. 13:5a)
In other words, you ought to be the proof that Christ exists in you. If your foundation is solid, then what comes next will be able to reflect truth and purity. It ought to look like Christ! But you cannot expect for the mind, mouth, hands, and legs to be productive without first building a strong base.
No professional basketball player shoots his first free throws during the game. He shoots thousands when no one is watching.
Public speakers re-write what they are going to say, practice in front of a mirror hundreds of times, and listen to recordings of their performances. They don’t just walk out and let it roll.
The soldiers in WWI changed their entire focus on preparation and prevention to ensure a healthy foundation, knowing that it was the pass gate to everything else.
Who are we not to take from that a lesson?
Here on a day and in a season to be thankful for many things, tangible and not, I am grateful for the reminder this morning that Paul gave us.
Before I think that I would parent that child a different way. . . .
Before I think that I would have made a different decision . . . .
Before I believe a rumor . . . .
Before I discredit a source . . . .
Before I believe that about someone without knowing more. . . .
Before I look less like Christ. . . .
. . . I will check my foundation.
Search me, God and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way. – Psalm 139:23-24