If everything were as it ought to be, no one would ever need courage. Unfortunately, the world is most definitely not as it ought to be and courage is constantly in high demand. No one has to be told how difficult and confusing the world is, and it’s no surprise that our understanding of bravery and courage falls in with the rest of it. There are so many things demanding our thoughts, our understanding often gets lost in the shuffle. Still, there are some things we can always remember about courage and having it for ourselves.
1. Courage always looks different from the outside
Let’s get this one out of the way first thing. We live in a world of absolutely perilous comparison. We constantly compare our possessions, our accomplishments, our bodies, our relationships, our homes, everything. So is it really any surprise that we also turn around and compare our courage?
Most of the time I don’t even think we’re fully aware that we’re doing it, but unfortunately, comparisons done consciously or unconsciously are indistinguishable in their damage. I know how guilty I’ve been of looking over at someone I admire while they deal with a crisis and marveling at their coolheadedness, their calm resolve, and their general fearlessness. I look at all these great traits and immediately distort it all by berating my apparent lack of them.
But we have to remember that you are only ever seeing the surface level of someone’s courage. One of the attributes of courage is its ability to set fear aside, so it’s only natural that a person’s fear isn’t observable to us, an outsider. That doesn’t mean for a moment that it’s not there. A person’s facial expression, when exercising courage, doesn’t display a racing heart, tense muscles, worst-case scenario thinking, or any other indicators of fear.
The people around you aren’t seeing everything going on under the surface the same as you aren’t seeing what’s going on under the surface for them. So why should we waste our time holding ourselves to a standard that’s only half the picture? Your courage will look different than everyone else’s because you and God are the ones holding the complete picture.
Comparing yourself to others wastes precious time and energy that you can not afford to lose. Don’t trade in that currency.
2. Courage is exhausting.
It’s unpleasant to consider, but if we don’t acknowledge it we will be caught off guard. Being courageous will also be exhausting. Full stop.
The thing about that exhaustion is that it will make you question if you’re doing things right. We’ve fine-tuned ourselves to hunt out simplicity and ease which gives us a lot of benefits in life, but there are still some things that refuse to answer to simplicity. So when something comes along with absolutely no simplicity to grab on to or look forward to, we very understandably start to question the wisdom of that particular endeavor. It sends us all sorts of signals that this is wrong. There is an error somewhere. Their refusal to bend is not always an indication that something is wrong. More often than not, it is an indication that it is incredibly worth it.
But that exhaustion is valid and needs to be talked about. We can’t afford to be buried under the weight of it.
Having courage is a thousand times more exhausting than giving in to fear.
It is going to hurt. It is going to feel like it’s taking everything out of you. Much like the way your muscles scream for you to stop in a tough workout, so will your thoughts and emotions scream at you to stop when you’re exercising your courage. Courage takes effort. We have to take that into our calculations.
3. Courage is an ongoing process.
I really wish I could cap this off with a cheery “Remember the first two points and you’ll be set! Courage locked in! No need to think about it anymore!” but that’s just not how it works nor is that any kind of realistic outcome. Courage is something you will have to keep coming back to again and again as though it’s your first time using it. There is no end to the use of your courage.
Ask any intense athlete, and they will tell you that the fine-tuning of their body is an ongoing process. They don’t get into shape for one race and then sit back and relax. Their bodies fall out of shape if they don’t keep up the effort. In the same vein, they don’t get into peak physical condition, stop working out, and watch as their body continues to improve with absolutely no effort on their part.
Courage, while not as quantifiable or visible, is no different. You have to keep coming back to it. You have to keep picking it up and fine-tuning the use of it, figuring out where you’re weak and where you’re doing all right. A process like that is so much bigger than a single event. Like an athlete, you have to keep training.
Courage is a muscle. You have to work it to make it stronger.
So it follows that those moments of fear and difficulty in our life are absolutely rife with possibility. That ongoing process we call courage isn’t a waste of your time. It’s not something inconvenient or bumping your off course. The more opportunities you have to exercise your courage the stronger it is likely to become.
Courage only improves through use.
If you are never placed in a position requiring bravery and determination, you’ll never have any call to use your courage, let alone advance it. If you want courage, you will need fear. There is no way around it. Think of all the brave people you admire. Their bravery may look different, but what they all have in common is that more than once they’ve been in a situation that was terrifying to them. They were put in a position that terrified them and they had to make hard and fast decisions about how they would react. It’s their courage that we remember them for, but it was their fear that they conquered.
Why not you too? Today’s fear can be tomorrow’s courage if we can hold on. If fear is going to be a forever fixture in our lives, we may as well do the hard work to make sure that courage is too.
Let’s find some joy,