How do You Define Courage?
Recently I asked some friends, “What is something courageous you have done today?” I received some interesting answers. My favorite was from a mother of young ones: “I got out of bed today.”
Humor aside, how would you define courage? My first thoughts run to a Marine standing on the front battles lines. Then there is King David from the Bible, a warrior with almost unlimited courage. As a child he stood up to bears, lions, and a big-mouthed, smack-talking giant. I also picture firemen and police. They respond to fires and even criminals who would rather kill than be caught. The examples of brave men and women who serve in our armed forces and first response units could fill more space than I have on my computer.
I suppose in my mind courage = people doing big things.
But are there other, more subtle ways to define courage?
Parenting is courageous. In all seriousness, it does take courage to get out of bed to face a household of children. There have been many days I have wanted to hide under the covers. What about a kid (or adult) standing up to a bully. Who didn’t cheer when George McFly finally punched Biff in Back to the Future? It takes real courage to face a bully.
What else makes someone courageous?
Even though it may seem counter intuitive to my earlier “courage = people doing big things” definition, what about facing internal issues and sin? Even though David was ready to lead his men into battle at a moment’s notice, he had difficulty facing sin in his personal life. The most famous was his affair with Bathsheba. I’ve heard commentators say that it took him a year to face that one. His family life was also troubled by issues he would not face. His children got to the point where they killed each other, yet David did not speak up. It was said David fought like a bear, but he had difficulty facing the issues in his heart.
Whenever I study King David, I think about my own life and my internal heart issues: jealousy, irritation, anger, temptations of all kinds. In my opinion, it takes a great deal of courage to face my own heart. How many of us have heard or read stories about a decorated and brave soldier who returned home and was unable to face his post-traumatic stress, the pain in his marriage, or his problems with rage? It is no small matter for any person to face the sin, fears, and damage carried in their soul.
Yes, Jesus died for my sins, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to face them. After all, the heart is where sin takes root. If I let my jealousy of others and their seemingly better lives than mine take root and grow, then I will be left bitter. The same is true of any other temptation.
Years ago, during graduate school, I struggled with stress and fear. This manifested in my life in the form of an eating disorder. I wanted to blame external sources: TV, media, clothing manufacturers, etc. The real culprit, however, was my self and my need for control. Among other things I had to face the darkness in my heart and learn to give up control to God.
Many years after that, I found myself facing something similar when hubby and I relocated for his career change. I tried to put on a brave front, but my insides wound tighter each day. Instead of facing the pain and hurt there, I kept stuffing it back into a little box, where I thought I could hide it.
The result? I wound up locked in my closet, crying uncontrollably, while terrible, frightening and angry thoughts raged in my mind. When I sought counseling, one of the first things she told me was that I needed to face my emotions. I had to face what was in my heart or I would not move past the pain. Yet, when I started acknowledging and admitting what was in my heart—to myself and others—I learned to get along better with others. I learned that my temptations are similar to what everyone else faces. I also learned that admitting the true source of my emotions staves off emotional storms, both internal and external (i.e. fights with hubby…).
When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had to relearn a similar lesson. I was afraid. The future was uncertain. Instead of stuffing aside my fears, though, I did face them. And I took them before God. The physical battle was terrible, but the spiritual and emotional battles were often harder. Despair and “why me” thoughts were constant temptations. On the flip side, the rewards for facing emotional battles were and still are immeasurable.
So, perhaps courage = people facing big and small things, both inside and out.
What do you think?