(Speaking of courage---the new site, (in)courage, is now live. I hope you'll check it out after you finish reading this.)
She stood inches from the breaking waves using her big toe to write her name in the sand. Occasionally she dipped her feet into salty water, but it was rare for even her ankles to get wet. My five-year-old daughter, Pumpkindoodle, who errs on the side of caution, had no interest in exploring the ocean during our recent trip to the beach. My gentle coaxing did little to ignite her dormant adventurous spark until two of her friends, along with their mommy, decided to swim out to a sandbar about 20 feet away.
“Where did that island come from Mommy,” she asked.
“The sea level dropped in that spot and our friends are going to investigate it. It won't be there for long...would you like to check it out?”
“Um...I don't think so...wait...yes...yes, I'm going to go for it,” she squealed with a newfound resolve and firmly gripped my hand.
Her bravado waned when the waves thrashed against her waist. Sensing her fear, I picked her up, rested her against my hip, and reassured her with words of comfort.
“I won't make you keep going if you don't want to go, but if you still want to explore the island, I promise to hold you tight. I'll keep you safe and make sure your head does not go under water. What would you like to do?”
Pressing her forehead against mine she smiled then panted, “I am going to be brave. Let's do this together.”
Her feet danced before reaching the sand as we stepped onto the island. Exhilaration exuded as she gleefully jumped up and down exclaiming, “I did it!”
My daughter learned some lessons about true courage that day although it will be a few years before she can understand those nuggets of wisdom. While I permitted her to bask in the glory of her accomplishment, I knew that her newly garnered courage did not come from believing in herself. In fact, if that were the case, she would have demonstrated a reckless foolishness and rushed into the water unassisted. Instead, she realized her limits and placed her little life literally into the arms of someone reliable. Someone whom she knew would never sacrifice her safety.
By providing my daughter security as we ventured to the sand bar, I also subtly instilled in her a fundamental element of courage...trust.
Living in a crazy misguided world requires courage. Taking a stand for truth requires courage. Stepping over the invisible line that marks our zones of comfort requires courage. Obedience to God's calling in our lives requires courage. But true courage is not blind, nor is it rash. Courage comes from knowing that the ultimate outcome will be good. And not always in how we humans define good (i.e. getting our own way and being happy), but how God defines good (Romans 8 has some great examples of this).
“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Romans 8: 26-32, NASB.
Courage is derived from trust. Sometimes trust comes easily. Pumpkindoodle's willingness to venture to the sandbar in the face of fear was inspired by her wanting to explore with her friends. Trusting me, made it easier to do something that she wanted to do in the first place.
I find that trusting God sometimes means doing things that I do not want to do. Such as moving across the country seven times in ten years. Or, as was the case after The Professor and I first married, accepting a job that was levels lower than the position I previously had simply because it was the only offer I had at the time. Often times trusting God and responding with courageous obedience means taking the emphasis off of myself, focusing my gaze on Him, tightly grabbing His hand and saying “I'm going to be brave, let's do this together.”
“The Lord will hand over to you the people who live there, and you must deal with them as I have commanded you. So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you. Then Moses called for Joshua, and as all Israel watched, he said to him, 'Be strong and courageous! For you will lead these people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors he would give them. You are the one who will divide it among them as their grants of land.'” Deuteronomy 31:5-7 NLT