In times like ours, everyone is so self-centered that few think of giving themselves to a higher cause. People flee from suffering and great trials rather than embrace them with courage and grit.
As a result, so many fail to see the big picture. They tend to reduce everything to programs, power and systems. Today’s fight for our culture would be transformed if more people could inspire real change through their dedication and example.
Honoring Great Valor
One person who expressed this dedication well unexpectedly surfaced recently. France honored a World War II soldier by naming a square after him in Paris’s 17th arrondissement, where he is buried. The Paris city council also will put a plaque outside the house where he was born.
Such recognition may not seem extraordinary in the face of so many World War II soldiers who exhibited great valor. However, this soldier achieved fame for his actions on and off the battlefield. Looking at his life, we can garner three lessons for our times.
Beyond a Normal Life
The soldier was André Zirnheld, who died at 29 shortly after signing up for the war. Until his enlistment, there was nothing to distinguish the French philosopher teacher from anyone else. He looked forward to a career in education, which he was pursuing in the French Middle East.
The first lesson is that anything worth doing requires great dedication. There are times when a normal career is not an option. We need to step up to the plate.
His life changed when he decided to leave behind comfort for the suffering on the battlefield. When Germany occupied France and governed through the Vichy regime, he left his secure teaching job in Syria and became a paratrooper with Free French forces in Africa.
Who Dares Wins
Secondly, dedication is often not enough. Some situations require going the extra mile to do feats that we never thought possible.
Thus, already dedicated Zirnheld was not content to be part of any unit. He looked for a place full of adventure and danger. He eventually encountered the newly formed Special Air Service (SAS) commando unit that operated behind German lines in North Africa.
The storied SAS was founded by Sir David Stirling, a British Army officer with a special flair for audacity. Zirnheld’s group of French paratroopers soon joined the unit. He wrote about the decision and noted that he “had to admit his life would not be very long.”
For four months, Zirnheld helped wreak havoc on German supply lines and airfields using highly mobile jeeps and the element of surprise. He participated in four Franco-British raids that destroyed dozens of German planes on the ground. His life was cut short when he was attacked while returning from his final successful raid.
In his quest for a life filled with meaning and purpose, we learn the lessons found in the SAS motto, “Who Dares Wins.”
The Paratrooper Prayer
André Zirnheld is much more famous for something he did off the battlefield that touched countless souls.
Going through his belongings after his death, a fellow paratrooper found a prayer that Zirnheld had written 17 months before the war. It read:
Give me, O Lord my God, what is left Thee, that which no one asks of Thee.
I do not ask Thee for rest or tranquility, neither of body or soul.
I do not ask Thee for wealth or success or health.
So many ask Thee for these, my God, that none must be left Thee.
Give me, Lord, what is left. Give me what all refuse.
I want risk and anguish. I want fight and pain.
Give me this, my God, once and for all.
Give me the certainty that this will always be my portion because I will not always have the courage to ask it of Thee.
Give me, Lord, what is left Thee.
Give me what others do not want.
But also give me courage, strength and Faith.
The text soon became known as The Paratrooper’s Prayer and circulated throughout the French military and the world. The words were set to music. All French paratroopers still know and sing it.
Beyond Dedication and Daring
The third lesson contains a most sublime message for our un-heroic world. It teaches us that sometimes dedication and daring are not enough, and we must endure the sorrowful Way of the Cross.
There are times when the fight is so intense that we must have recourse to a higher power. The desperation of the situation reaches a point where we can expect nothing from others. On these occasions, we must embrace danger and risk with a soldier’s selflessness and generosity that often asks for the ultimate sacrifice.
In his touching plea, we sense the fiery charity of one that does not want to displease or even inconvenience God. We learn to be satisfied with what others do not want, with what is left over. We are asked to forego even legitimate pleasures like health or success. The cross must be embraced entirely and intensely, even with determination and joy.
Finally, the prayer contains an acknowledgment of human weakness. The wages of sin weigh heavily upon us. That which we ardently desire one day can easily wane on the morrow. Thus, we must ask that those things no one wants be made ours forever. The prayer makes the ardent plea that all be granted now, lest we lose courage when faced with adversity.
What Is Missing
Thus, André Zirnheld teaches by his example, daring and prayer. If our fight for the culture does not advance, it is because we do not take our ideas to their final consequences. We do not pursue our cause with daring and élan.
Some may espouse sound principles. However, too many put themselves and their comforts ahead of everything else. Too few offer to serve the God of Hosts with “courage, force and Faith.”
The key to success is to deny God nothing. Accept what is left and what others do not want. Such generosity will allow us to overcome all obstacles, make us capable of acts of courage and prepare the field for victory.