Courage fascinates me. It always has. It’s what draws me to war movies from WWI and WWII on to Vietnam. Movies like Hacksaw Ridge which tell the amazing true story of one man, Desmond Doss’, incredible valour not just on the battle front but also beginning with his stance not to bear arms. I agree that the scenes are very hard to watch but that is exactly what makes his courage so extraordinary.
There are countless war stories of bravery that seem absolutely otherworldly to me. I could name so many. How can people step into the fray of battle with no regard for their personal safety? Where do they find that unique ingredient possessed by only a few to dig deep into their own soul and move forward? Presently President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shines extraordinary-although being targeted he is standing firm and leading the fight against the evil that has attacked his country.
Yet additionally, I find it even more extraordinary to knowingly place your family at risk to save others! I mean, it’s one thing to chance your own wellbeing, but to place those you love in extreme peril defies any logical merit, doesn’t it? The conviction to risk yourself and everyone you love to do what is right must overpower all else. How did Oskar Schindler, a “righteous Gentile” as the Israelis called him, who was married with a family, as was Irena Sendler who rescued thousands of children, or Casper Ten Boom and his family ever find the courage to save so many? Dietrich Bonhoeffer also knew his family could be in danger because of his alliances and his work against Nazi Germany. This sort of courage was secretive, surreptitious. It had to be in order to work. Harriet Tubman must indeed have been cut from the same cloth liberating approximately 70 from slavery to freedom using the Underground Railroad.
“In the arcanum,” Bonhoeffer said, “Christ takes everyone who really encounters him by the shoulder, turning them around to face their fellow human beings and the world.”
Standing up for what is right takes courage, profound courage. Fifteen year old Claudette Colvin refused to give up her bus seat to a white person months before Rosa Parks did. Martin Luther King Jr promoted non-violent protest against racial inequality. Nelson Mandela stood against apartheid in South Africa. Today young Greta Thunberg understandably fights for a healthy planet since her generation will inherit the earth we leave behind. Malala Yousafzai valiantly continues to fight for female education in Pakistan and worldwide even after surviving an assignation attempt.
Our vision of courage grows and evolves from childhood. Singing solos in church, driving alone in the wind the first time after I got my license, speaking to a large group, interviewing for a better job position, each act most terrifying pushed me to greater courage despite my fear. Ordinary life lessons grow our bravery even though we don’t see it at the time.
Then I went to Africa. I met the young principal of a deeply rural school in Zimbabwe. He bravely left his wife and children for many long months at a time to serve his students in what we would see as desperate conditions. And there, older siblings or grannies raise the younger children because their parents have passed away. Single parents, now 1.8 million of them worldwide, are in a class of valour all their own! Currently scientists, teachers, truckers, sales clerks and refuse collectors, so often unsung, are all so very incredibly courageous to simply keep at it though the pandemic.
Yet as I get older I see there is a more subtle, unrecognized, never celebrated type of courage. There is a simple closer-to-home, but nonetheless incredible, bravery within so many who tenaciously strive to place one foot ahead of the next day after day: after years battling a debilitating disease and failing health, after years battling sadness and depression, after years struggling with a disability or challenge, after years battling deep grief over the loss of a loved one, after years battling an addiction, after years battling to recover and restore a fractured relationship, after years battling abuse, after years battling that personal demon deep inside, whatever it is these quiet movers and shakers have chosen to step forward time and time again, not to be like Lot’s wife, frozen in the act of looking backwards. Their tremendously courageous resolve is also to be honoured. When we are young we don’t see these warriors or appreciate their struggles. And, the truth is we all battle something at any age or stage of life. Yet moving ahead despite the fear is what makes courage so very remarkable….like Peter walking on water!
Many, many times I have asked myself if I could be brave. I have concluded that perhaps I could during battle while the bullets whiz around me in all directions. No time to think. Just do it. I would simply react. I think I could step out. I would do what was demanded of me in the immediate moments. But if I had time to consider the circumstances, the what-if’s, the possible cost to those I care about, I’m honestly not sure how I’d respond.
So finally, I asked myself what really frightens me the most. After personal observations of my own courage or lack thereof and after digging deep for many years my answer surprised even me-weakness. Actually, I’m afraid of being weak! I suppose it should have been obvious but it wasn’t. I’m afraid that I won’t have what it takes when I need it to stand against the foe, whatever the foe turns out to be. So I decided to try to embrace my own weaknesses. I asked the Lord to show them very clearly to me, my cracks, my Achilles heel, my kryptonite. This was extremely alarming at first, but then gradually I came to understand that my weakness is exactly what makes me need God so much. Without Him I am nothing.
This epiphany was a blessing in disguise, especially as I age which requires more and more fortitude. This need in me is the very thing that can push me to find my mettle. It’s not about under which circumstances I would or would not have backbone. It’s about constantly depending on Him as the years roll by because I am so very weak. I need Him. That is where I will find my strength. I can see that I need to become less and less so that he can become more and more... because that is exactly where my courage resides-in Him!
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10