Lately I’ve been thinking about an old movie, “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” (Anyone remember its catchy theme, “The Colonel Bogey March”?) The movie is about some British POWs in World War II who were forced by their Japanese captors to construct a railway bridge to transport supplies.
After initially resisting the Japanese demands, the British Colonel ends up changing his mind and has his men build a “proper bridge” as a testament to British engineering and craftsmanship. However, unbeknownst to him, the Allies have orders to blow up the bridge so as to disrupt the Japanese supply chain.
When the Colonel discovers this plan, he actually tries to prevent the sabotage of the bridge and ends up fatally wounded in the process. When he finally has a clear realization of what has happened, the Colonel’s famous last words are, “What have I done?”
Well, what he did was to “fall in love” with a personal project so much so that he lost sight of a much bigger picture – that of defeating the enemy and winning the war! What he lacked was detachment.
LESSONS IN DETACHMENT
We can’t speak about detachment, sacrifice, and obedience without reference to Abraham being told to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22. The Bible says that “God tested Abraham” by requiring him to sacrifice his beloved son – the “son of the promise.” By his willingness to carry out this incredibly difficult command, Abraham passed the test and proved his commitment to the Lord, for which he was amply rewarded by the blessing of “descendants as the stars of heaven and the sand of the seashore” (cf. Gen. 22:17).
It is very difficult to be detached from material goods, for sure, but also even from works or projects that are spiritual or evangelistic in nature. It is rather easy to get so immersed in the “work of the Lord” that we tend to neglect “the Lord of the work.” I remember a truly prophetic talk given by my wife Patti on this topic. Using the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 as an example, she warned a particular ministry against the temptation to want to “make a name for ourselves”, as the men of Babel did. She cautioned against having “sticky fingers”, that is, wanting to make sure our “fingerprints” are on projects that we do in the name of the Lord. How true! (In the movie referenced above, the Colonel had a plaque placed on the bridge, crediting himself and his British POWs for building it!)
THIS HITS HOME TO ME
So why have I been thinking about all this recently? I confess…it’s because this year’s Conference was canceled two weeks before it was to take place. This was the 47th Conference I have been blessed to organize and I have to admit that I felt a special satisfaction with this one – with the theme, the speakers, the program, the brochure – everything about it! When the Lord saw fit that it should be canceled, needless to say I felt it very keenly.
I remember reading in the life of St. Ignatius Loyola that he was asked how he would react if the Church were to dissolve the order he had founded. Ignatius said that he thought it would take him about fifteen minutes to compose himself. So maybe it took me a little longer with the Conference!
When we went through Hurricane Katrina, it seemed that detachment was one of the main lessons that the Lord wanted to teach. At that time, we were “involuntarily detached” from our home, our office, and the site for our four yearly retreats! As I say this, I am also very much aware that so many others lost so much more than we did in Katrina. But for me, somehow there is always the tendency to become complacent and get “re-attached.” The Lord has to repeat the lesson!
THY WILL BE DONE
It all comes down to this, doesn’t it? Isn’t this the bottom line…Thy Will Be Done, in all things, everywhere, and by everyone. Jesus is our example and our model, the “founder and perfecter of our faith” (cf. Heb. 12:2). His prayer and attitude in Gethsemane has to be ours: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).
O Lord my Father, may my prayer always be “Thy will be done,” so that at the end of my life I won’t have to say, “What have I done?”.