|By Chuck Colson
Most of us will probably celebrate the holiday this week as part of a generic "Presidents' Day"-and we probably
did so in the all-American way: We headed for the malls to shop the sales. But pause a moment and think of the impression
that makes on our kids: Should we really be celebrating the birth of the Father of our Country by rushing out to buy half-price
toasters and lawn mowers? |
If we want to instill in our children a deeper reverence for the ideals upon which our nation
was founded, let's use occasions like this to teach them about the character of our Founders. In the case of Washington, we
ought to understand that our first President was not only the Father of our Country, but also a man of profound Christian
Journey back with me 222 years to the terrible winter of 1777 at Valley Forge. The British had just captured
Philadelphia, and the Continental Army was struggling to keep itself alive. Lacking food and clothing, the men were dying
of exposure and starvation. Certain political leaders-many of them jealous of Washington-began to whisper that the general's
cause was hopeless.
But the men who served under Washington felt differently. As William Bennett writes in his book,
Our Sacred Honor, "The brutal conditions of Valley Forge could not suppress a spirit of comity that arose among the officers
and their men."
These men were inspired to go on because of the moral example Washington provided. His ability
to inspire through his character is illustrated by a story told by a Quaker farmer. Walking in the woods near Washington's
headquarters, this farmer heard a human voice. The farmer happened upon General Washington, alone and on his knees in the
snow. He was praying to God while tears ran down his cheeks.
After witnessing this humble act of faith, the farmer returned
home in great excitement. He told his wife that Washington would not only prevail, but would "work out a great salvation
This respect for Washington was a direct result of Washington's personal virtue, which was cultivated
his entire life. As Bennett points out, "Washington wasn't born good. Only practice and habit made him so." The
general was keenly aware of his faults, especially his temper, and from an early age, he worked at controlling this and other
In today's "anything goes" culture, this intense striving after moral excellence is rare. But
it's the reason Washington's men were willing to sacrifice for him-even when their cause appeared hopeless. And it's the reason
he was later chosen as our first president.
Washington's stature, you see, is of the biblical kind. When the Old Testament
writers judged a leader, it was always in moral, not political, terms. Rulers might conquer a vast empire-but if they neglected
their spiritual duties, they were dismissed as men who "did what was evil in the sight of the Lord."
make a resolution. Next year for Washington's birthday, instead of rushing out to the malls, let's teach our kids that Washington
was not just our first president, but a man of moral excellence. Teach them that they should seek after the kind of moral
excellence in their lives that Washington personified: the kind that arises, not only from accomplishment, but from character.
Otherwise, we may forget why Washington is remembered as "the Father of our Country"-and that would be a terrible