Devotion | Shackleton – Part 2
Philippians 3:13b-14, “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
In August of 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his twenty-seven crew members set sail, attempting to become the first people to cross the continent of Antarctica. After many weeks of sailing and stopping for provisions, they finally had land in sight. They started through the ice toward their landing spot, and that’s when everything turned for the worse. The temperature changed, the current shifted, the wind picked up, and the ice, formerly fluid and free-flowing, now froze their ship in place. So they waited, and waited, and waited some more. Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Winter arrived in full force. They were going to be there awhile.
Routine: The Key to Survival
Shackleton knew that to survive they had to be careful with food and shelter. But there was something more sinister than starvation: “Of all the enemies—the cold, the ice, the sea—he feared none more than demoralization.” Shackleton employed two key strategies to keep his crew from succumbing to cabin fever: The first was optimism, of which Shakleton had plenty. His vigor and belief in life was infectious to all who spent time around him. He was absolutely convinced that they would survive and kept passing this belief on to the rest of the crew.
The second was busyness. Minds tended to tumble toward the worst outcome when idle. Shackleton knew that without purpose, people lose heart and enthusiasm for life. He set about creating structure and routine to keep his crew busy. He assigned jobs; some cared for the sled dogs and their harnessing. Others inspected the ship for leaks or areas that needed repair. Everyone was assigned a time to stand lookout for open water or land and to track their movement (the ice pack they were stuck in was flowing with the sea current). Others went on seal hunts to supplement their dwindling food stores.
But it wasn’t all work. He also organized dog sled races, hockey tournaments, nightly card games, and chess competitions. There were lectures on various topics to enrich the mind. Most nights involved the public reading from books. Then there were special holiday celebrations full of music, plays, and dancing. All of this led to the crew not just surviving, but flourishing.
After a particularly intense day of work trying to provide the basic necessities of life, the crew was known to be full of gratitude. One wrote in his journal, “What an ingrate I have been for such jobs when done for me at home.” Another said, “One of the finest days we have ever had… a pleasure to be alive.” For years after their rescue, those stuck on the ice with Shackleton remembered that time as some of the greatest days of their lives.
But they were not yet free. It had come time to abandon the boat that had kept them shielded from the elements in their fight for survival. It was slowly being crushed by the ever-shifting ice. They did all they could to keep repairing breaks in the hull, but now it was beyond repair.
What started as an expedition became a survival mission, as those men would spend the next two years stranded in Antarctica, the most socially-distant place on earth. Their excitement for the mission had been their great affection at the start of the mission, but now that affection would shift toward survival.
- How do you think you would handle being stuck on the ice like that?
- What kind of routine in life helps give you direction, meaning, and purpose?
- What kind of Spiritual disciplines help keep you focused on the most important things in life? (i.e. Prayer, Bible study, giving, serving, fasting, etc.)
God, we thank you for caring for us, for creating us to be people who delight in being productive, for being with others and celebrating life with them. Help us, in every circumstance we are in, to get our eyes off of ourselves and turn them toward serving others. Help us to put routines in our lives now that will help us daily draw closer to you.