By Chaplain (Colonel) Rick Koch – State Command Chaplain, Alaska National Guard
A spring hike in a Midwestern marshy area many years ago marked a weekend trip with my Boy Scout troop.
We were going to cook a picnic lunch at a designated campsite. Each one of us carried a backpack with cans of food, which I’m sure seemed heavy to us young adolescents at the time. To keep our feet dry we wore heavy rubber boots. We slogged our way along a trail bordered by spongy marshlands on either side. Then, an unexpected obstacle confronted us about halfway through the journey: A drainage ditch filled with water. To cross the ditch, each of us had to leap from one side to the other. We challenged each other with light-hearted trash talking as we surveyed the situation. Yet, deep down I could sense every one of us was frightened of the prospect of leaping that ditch. Sure, there was fear of getting wet and muddy on a cool spring day, but the biggest fear was failure. Nobody wanted to be that guy who embarrassed himself by not succeeding to clear the ditch high and dry.
The weight of the packs with cans and the heavy rubber boots added to our concern. I’m sure if I had drawn a chalk line denoting the width of the two edges of the ditch on my driveway at home, I would have been able to leap it successfully every time. The seven or eight-foot depth of the trench with about three feet of water at the bottom, however, played in our minds and made the prospect of safe passage quite daunting. In my heart, I believed I had enough strength and skill to make the leap, but I wasn’t sure. I did not know it then, but I was learning a faith lesson.
Years later when attending seminary, the topic of the nature of faith came up in one of my classes.
Scripture tells us, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). In short, a person who possesses faith in something does so without complete, or sometimes even any, information. In ancient Greek, the word for knowledge is “gnosis,” and therefore an “agnostic” represents a person without knowledge. During our classroom discussion, the professor wondered if a person motivated by faith is, in fact, an agnostic who is willing, without full understanding, to step out in a direction in which they believe is correct.
The more we think about faith, then, the more we need to connect it with courage. Faith, in essence, represents an action.
Faith is not just a thought. Having faith means we’re willing, even if afraid, to move toward the desired goal even if we don’t know how things will turn out. In short, a person of faith is a believer who courageously acts without any or perhaps full knowledge.
So, a group of Boy Scouts hiking through Midwestern marshland gathered their collective courage, and one after the other leapt across a rather inconsequential drainage ditch on their way to a picnic lunch. Some did better than others, though, in every respect, no one completely failed. As for me, I exerted such a strong effort I surpassed my initial expectations by a few feet. The leap of faith, completed by courage, dispelled the unknown and added new knowledge and confidence to all the other boys and me. Acting on faith can lead to strengthened belief in our own abilities, the actions of others whom we trust, and especially help build a deeper relationship with the Divine.
People can get stuck in deep and unproductive ruts when they lack the courage to step out in faith.
Courageously acting on the critical moments of faith throughout life allows us to grow and change in wondrous ways we may have once thought impossible. Being stagnant will never get us to the picnic. Taking leaps of faith lead us to the promise of new growth and fuller lives.
Chaplain (Colonel) Rick Koch is the State Command Chaplain for the Alaska National Guard and serves as the co-chair for the Alaska Coalition for Veterans & Military Families Faith Alliance.
The Alaska Coalition for Veterans & Military Families works to better serve Service members, Veterans and their Families in the communities in which they live. Learn more by visiting www.AKCVMF.org.