When Courage Fails Us
Last Sunday evening I sat on a cushy chair in the front row of the room where our church gathers. I had just finished walking people through Jesus’ arrest and trial–trying to shine light on the character of the kingdom of God. There was a list on the screen I had put together. On one side was the heading “Kingdoms of the World,” and on the other “Kingdom of God.” Under each heading were a few words I felt fell out of that story. I was sitting there because I had asked people to consider where they saw themselves on that list and to listen for what God would want to say to them about that. After thirty seconds sitting there it occurred to me that I should do what I had asked of everyone else.
I looked up at the list and almost immediately my eyes, mind, and heart were drawn to the fourth word under the “Kingdom of God” heading–courageous. Just as quickly, I realized that I was being led to that word not because I am a shining example of it, but because I’m not.
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Winston Churchill
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” C.S. Lewis
Since Sunday I’ve been thinking about what keeps me (and maybe others) from being courageous.
Being liked is my highest value.
Being courageous means doing the right thing even when it is not easy. Apologizing when I’m embarrassed and want to avoid whatever happened. Saying things I believe to be true with all my being when I know others will disagree.
The fundamental reason I fail to be courageous is that I care what other people think about me more than pretty much anything else. This isn’t what I’d tell you if you asked me what I care about most. My heart doesn’t beat faster at the thought of being able to make people like me. But whenever I have an inkling someone doesn’t like something I’m doing or saying tension begins to rise in my chest. When someone is short with me I begin imagining what I’ve done to upset them and why they won’t want to be around me anymore. I am tuned into how people view me far beyond reality and it shapes my days.
I am trying to stop. I’m trying to learn to trust that love and kindness toward others are enough. That I don’t need to base my life on my view of how they view me. I even have some wonderful people who are trying to help me change. They’re loving me in the midst of my failure. They’re reminding me that I am already loved deeply by the King and that I don’t need to seek approval elsewhere.
I hope I can be transformed, because I know until this changes in me I will struggle profoundly to be courageous.
I am slow to act.
I used to be pretty impulsive, and still can be at times. But I’ve noticed a trend in my life. There are times where I know the right or good thing to do and I don’t act on it right away. I file it away. I think about what conditions need to come together to make it the right time. And most of the time the time that passes erodes my courage until there’s not enough left to do the right thing.
I know patience is a virtue. There are times when the right thing to do is to wait. But when I know the right thing to do and talk myself out of acting for ignoble reasons, it is not patience but cowardice.
I’m not sure courage is worth it.
There are times I have stepped out courageously in my life. Many of these times it has been due in large part to my wife’s willingness to take my hand and do it with me. And as I think back on those times, the first thing to strike me is how it didn’t turn out the way I hoped. There was always a vision, a hope, that drove me to courage. I saw what could be, or should be, and the cost didn’t matter. It was the right thing to do. Yet those visions have never been realized.
This is both a truth and a lie. It is truth because I can’t remember a time when courage has led exactly to the place I thought it would. There have always been differences–deficiencies–between what I hoped for and what actually materialized. But it is a lie because there has been tremendous good that has come from these courageous acts. It is true that the good was not exactly what I imagined, but to say courage has not been worth it in my experience would be to deny love, friendship, purpose, adventure, healing, and growth. The reality is that tremendous good has come from doing what I knew was right, the times when I have done that, and it is a trap to view courage as not worthwhile because it didn’t always lead where I thought it would.
I don’t like pain.
Acts that are easy don’t take courage. By it’s very nature courage calls us to do things that will likely cause us pain and cost us convenience. I like comfort and convenience. I don’t think I’m alone in that. But failing to be courageous for the sake of comfort is pretty boring. The truly good things in life almost never come through ease or cowardice. Discomfort, even pain, when experienced because of courage is often the path to life.
A Renewed Pursuit
The good thing about all this reflection is that it has sparked a desire in me for courage that has been absent for a while. By God’s grace I will continue to pursue a more courageous life for the good of others and the good of the kingdom of the King I love.