On duty

You’ve probably already seen the picture. You may have seen a news cast and special feature. Perhaps, like me, you’ve had the privilege of being at Arlington National Cemetery and seeing the Old Guard participate in their sacred ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Without a doubt, the picture of a lone soldier keeping his post during the blustery weather brought on by Hurricane Irene is something to see; something to think about.

Here is a great collection of photos from the tomb of the unknown, including the several taken during Hurricane Irene:


Guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns is quite the honor. To date, just over 400 soldiers have earned that honor, one that dates back to 1937. There is only one military badge that has been given fewer times than the one awarded to those who guard the tomb. (Be the first person to correctly identify this badge in an e-mail to me and receive a free copy of Overboard’s latest book, Dream House!) The badge that is given to those who earn the position of sentry for the Tomb of the Unknowns also comes with this distinction: It is the only military badge that can be taken away from a solider due to behavior unbecoming the honor of their position. There is some interesting facts and information on the Tomb page of wikipediea: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomb_of_the_Unknowns

A few years ago I had the privilege of watching this sacred honor take place while visiting DC. I watched as the sentry on duty took his 21 steps, paused for 21 seconds, turned and faced the tomb for another 21 seconds, then took his next 21 steps. This process was repeated for almost 30 minutes before he recorded his duty in the same meticulous fashion and then the captain of the guard came out with his replacement and the exchange of duty took place. It really was captivating to see, and on that beautiful day in July, hundreds of people watched in reverent silence as these men performed their sacred duty.

And as Hurricane Irene has now come and gone, we see that these men are ready and eager to perform this duty at all costs. 24-hours a day they march. During the day they take 30 or 60 minute shifts depending on the season, and throughout the night they perform 2-hour shifts of silent honor to the unknown soldiers. Sideways rain, hurricane-force wind, oppressive heat and blanketing snow are no deterrents to these soldiers. These men shave twice-a-day while on duty, take six hours (SIX HOURS!) to prepare their uniforms for action, memorize hundreds of facts about Arlington National Cemetery and must pass strenuous strength tests and ceremonial procedure exams in order to even be considered for the position. Once on duty, nothing takes them away from their task.

Truly these soldiers are relentless. Everything they do must align itself with the goal of bringing honor to those unknown soldiers for whom it is due. They march under every condition the weather may bring. They man their posts at the turn of each season. Whether watched or unnoticed — they carry on with dignity, pride and purpose.

I admire the men and women who have earned the distinction of serving as Old Guard Sentinels. Their commitment and discipline to the job is almost unheard of in so many parts of life and society. Unfortunately, it’s almost unheard of when it comes to those who know and love God, too. I speak from my own experience and the incredible lack of discipline and commitment with which I’ve lived my life at times. Although I know there is someone bigger than me to live for, I spend so much of my life living for me — living for my own pleasure, my own satisfaction. Of course, the problem is that when I live like that I find myself less satisfied than ever and that usually plunges me even deeper into self-focused living.

The guards at the tomb live for something bigger. They wear no distinctive ranks on their uniforms. They march in silence. Their names are not declared to anyone present. They march in the dead of night when the cemetery is closed when no one but the Creator of the stars is watching. Onward they perform their duty.

I believe God wants that kind of dedication from His children. Not that we are to be joyless, expressionless and ritualistic in how we live for Him, but rather, that we would be undeterred in our desire to please Him first. That, if you know His Son as your Lord and Savior, you would live a life that reflects Him in every facet of your day-to-day existence. That we would be relentless in seizing each opportunity He gives us to share His love with others, to protect the innocent, to care for the hurting, to be filled with laughter and joy with those in celebration and to ache and mourn with those in pain. That we would be the first to help the broken-hearted, and the first to congratulate the victor. I am confident God wants us to live in such a way that people stand back and watch because, whether they agree with us or not, they can’t help but admire our passion and commitment to living an Overboard life.

In 2 Timothy 2 Paul wrote this: Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs — he wants to please his commanding officer” — 2 Timothy 2:3-4

Hardship, bad weather, pain, loss and suffering are all a part our existence, but a good soldier works through those things in order to keep his or her life aligned with the wishes of the commanding officer. Just as the Sentries at the Tomb of the Unknowns maintain their vigilance through the heat of the day and the cool of the night, God wants His children to live a life that pleases Him through anything life throws at them. And it’s when we grasp that great concept that two things happen. First, we experience the fullest life imaginable. Jesus told His followers that by ‘losing’ their lives in Him, they would gain the life they really wanted. When life shifts from being all about us to being all about Him, God gives us back the most joy-filled and satisfying life; better than we ever could have manufactured for ourselves. The second thing that happens is this: Others are can see what we’ve done and can be challenged to live for God in the same manor. God uses you and me, busted up and feeble though we are, to show others what life can be like when lived as a dedicated soldier relentless in our pursuit of pleasing God first. I know many men and women who have lived as Sentries on duty and have inspired me to live my God-designed life out of the comfort of the boat and out on the water where Jesus is building His Kingdom.

Could we capture your life on tape like that of these soldiers? Would others admire your dedication to please your master regardless of the personal loss or pain that might come your way? I want to earn my badge for being a sentry on-duty at all times. What about you?

Go ahead and take the plunge — life is better on the water!

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3 Responses to On duty

  1. Pingback: 101 times you’re read this blog… | The Overboard life

  2. kendra says:

    Love the soldier comparison and visual it brings to mind of how I want to be serving my savior through good and bad circumstances and not dependant on whether others are watching but just because of the honor that HE deserves.

  3. Heidi A says:

    For the record, I must have missed this one the first time. But I really enjoyed it today. 🙂

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