Fall 2006, and “Mission Accomplished” was turning into “Mission Impossible” as the USA was slowly yet surely losing the Iraq War.

General George Casey was persisting in the bloody “drawdown to handover” strategy, despite the engulfing disaster. Pete Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was desperate.  Looking for a new strategy, he invited retired Army General Jack Keane (and former vice chief of staff) to a crisis meeting. Bob Woodward reports the encounter in The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008 (p144).

“How do you think we are doing?” Pace enquired. Keane was blisteringly frank and direct: “I would give you a failing grade.”

Visibly pained, Pace asked, “What do you think I should be doing?”

Keane’s advice was startling – tell General Casey to reduce his workload and take time off every day!

“George Casey is at this 24/7. He has nothing to nurture his life. He is completely immersed and isolated by one thing and only one thing. That’s this war. It has completely captured everything he does. His capacity at times to see clearly is always going to be limited and defined by his day-in, day-out experience and the fatigue he suffers.”

Keane said that he thought the obsessive work ethic of the senior military men was self-defeating. “Our generals fight wars today almost at a frenetic pace that is counter-productive,” he said. Compare that to World War II General Douglas Macarthur, who watched a movie every night, Keane said, or Army Chief of Staff George Marshall,

“He went home every night at a reasonable hour and rode a horse, for crying out loud. He sometimes took a nap for an hour and a half during the day. And these guys were doing big, important things. You know what our guys are like? They’re at their desks at 6.30 in the morning, and they stay up till midnight.”

It was a manhood issue, Keane thought. Because the soldiers were out there 24/7, the generals thought they better do the same. But the core issue was fresh, clear thinking about the tasks of war.

How many pastors could benefit from this advice!? It is so easy for us to be doing, doing doing; producing, producing, producing; more more more; longer, longer, longer. Yet are we losing battle after battle? And maybe even the war? Is our obsessive work-ethic self-defeating? Is our blinkered desire to prove ourselves real working-men to other working-men destroying our ability to think about the tasks of war in a fresh, clear way?

Many of us have learned from painful experience how vital it is to nurture our lives with daily, weekly, and annual rest and recreation. We can certainly find better things to do than watch a movie every night, and safer things to do than go horse-riding in our cities! However, if we are to avoid self-defeating staleness and sameness, we must plan our rest and recreation as religiously as our reading and writing, our preaching and evangelism. And maybe, just maybe, some rest and recreation could turn your present “Mission Impossible” into “Mission Accomplished!”