Courage sounds really sexy in theory. We watch movies that are centered around acts of bravery and overcoming unimaginable turmoil (all while a symphonic soundtrack amplifies our emotions). We feel warm and fuzzy when people do something bold: Skydive. Ask the girl out. Reach the mountaintop. Stand up for what they believe in. We associate courage with that happy ending that inspires others.
I too believe courage is a beautiful thing. It’s my goal to live a life that’s teeming with it. But I’m not sure that courage is being portrayed completely accurately. If you look up the definition, you’ll find 2 meanings:
1. The ability to do something that frightens one.
2. Strength in the face of pain or grief.
If you would have asked me several months ago my thoughts of these definitions, I wouldn’t have blinked. I would have seen the legitimacy behind each and gone about my day. But there is a difference. There is absolutely a difference.
Describing courage as the ability to do something that frightens one is fair, but if that’s true then there’s GOT to be another name for having strength in the face of pain or grief. They’re simply not equals. For the sake of comparison, let’s call definition 1 courage and definition 2 REAL courage.
I’ve had courage before. I've done things that absolutely frighten me. For one, I’ve been skydiving. If you want to stare fear in the eyes, just try jumping 14,000 feet out of a rickety airplane, depending on a complete stranger. Or you could go paraglading, which I’ve also done and is also completely terrifying. You may not have the adrenaline rush of free falling- no, it’s a much sneakier kind of fright. It starts out gently walking down a mountain and suddenly the wind picks you up and you’re sailing over the Swiss Alps. At first it’s exhilarating. Beautiful. But then you begin to realize that this isn’t a quick up and down- that you have to sit in the air for 30 minutes being blown to and fro by the wind- completely at the mercy of God and a tiny little parachute. I can go a little beyond adrenaline rushes to other things that have frightened me: I’ve taken jobs I felt under-qualified for because I knew they would grow me. I’ve started this little thing called Blonde Atlas where I bare my soul to anyone willing to read it and make myself more vulnerable than I ever would have dreamed.
I’m not discrediting any of the things that I’ve listed above, because I genuinely am proud of every single one of them. It’s just that I’ve recently experienced the other kind of courage. What I believe to be REAL courage. And I can say firsthand that something that frightens you- even scares the hell out of you, doesn’t even hold a candle to having strength in the face of pain or grief. It just doesn’t.
Accepting a job that intimidates you feels scary for the first few weeks, but then you get the hang of it. Writing my blog feels scary (sometimes) when I hit “publish” and see what people have to say, but within a few hours I don’t care anymore. Paragliding was scary for about 30 minutes but then I landed safely on the ground. Skydiving was scary for 60 seconds of free falling.
Grief and pain are not that luxuriously fleeting. They haunt you. They slip into every nook and cranny and crevasse of your being and consume you. They remind you with every memory or chase you with endless levels of questions and confusion. You don’t get to escape them. You can stuff or bury them, but sooner or later you still have to deal with them. So having strength to persevere and be strong, even in the midst of the most unimaginable pain? That’s courage. It's trusting God’s goodness when there is no clarity or certainty- when you still trust God’s goodness when that uncertainty turns from hours and days into weeks and months.
Real courage isn’t something that you can condense into roughly 2 hours like every movie in Hollywood. Real courage is the long season full of waiting and agony and confusion before you get the triumphant victory. It’s looking to God in the darkest of hours when you feel the loneliest and most confused, and believing that He has a plan. It’s trusting he'll lead you to a life of blessing and abundance even when it looks like you’re walking through a slimy pit.
I'd like to think I've pretty much kicked ass at the first kind of courage for most of my life. I’ve done a LOT of things that scare me, and I know it’s through all of these tiny lessons that God’s been preparing me for this season of learning about real courage. Truth be told, I’m just now warming up. Sometimes I wish I was on the tail end of this season. That the lessons had been learned. That I was tasting delicious victory right about now. Sometimes this place really, REALLY sucks. I’m not going to pretend that it doesn’t. But I also really, REALLY believe and know, that the end of this road looks beautiful- because pure gold put in the fire comes out proved pure. And genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine.
Like I said, I'm just getting my feet wet in regards to learning about real courage, but I already know that it looks a lot less like fighting dragons and rescuing a princess from a castle tower. Real courage is getting the test results from the doctor but believing that God is bigger than the cancer. It's feeling betrayed and abandoned and knowing that God is going to bring beauty from even the most burnt ashes.
So regardless of where you find yourself right now, I hope that you'll choose to be courageous. I hope you’ll start by practicing it in all it’s simplest ways: that you’ll say what’s on your heart, try something that scares you, do something you think you can’t. And I hope that through those humble moments it prepares you for the opportunity to learn about real courage. I hope that God gets the chance to teach you about his goodness when it seems like it couldn't possible end that way. I hope you'll reach the end of the long road with a smile on your face and the ability to say "I HAVE courage and God IS SO good."