Everyone at some point in their lives has been told to have courage. We hear it all the time in the face of our fears and troubles. Which is all fine and good, but how are we meant to have courage in the face of so much fear?
Fear makes us feel like we have absolutely no control over what’s happening and in many ways that’s the worst part of it. So many things, big, bad scary things, are happening and here we are with seemingly no means to act over any of it.
Fortunately for us, Jesus spectacularly modeled how to to have courage in the moments leading up to his arrest. Matthew paints a picture of his time in the garden of Gethsemane and the fear he was feeling. Jesus knows that his death is close and takes the disciples out to the garden of Gethsemane to pray with him. “He told them, ‘My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying ‘My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.’” (Matthew 26:38-39)
Luke takes this event into greater detail and tells us that Jesus actually sweat blood. This is an actual phenomenon that can take place in moments of incredibly intense anxiety and strain. Jesus was in so much fear and anguish that his body reacted physically by extraordinary means. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been so scared I sweat blood, so I’m pretty willing to count Jesus as the ultimate authority on facing down fear.
While it’s a brief passage, Jesus, as is his way, leaves us with some incredible examples of not only what courage is, but how we can have it ourselves.
1. Call fear what it is
Not so very long ago, I was in a conversation with someone who oversees a lot of security at a hospital. One of his greatest points about his job and responding to a possible threat was simply acknowledging that the threat exists. As he put it, the people who have never paused to consider that a bad thing might happen always have a much longer delay in response than those who have taken the time to acknowledge the possibility of such a situation ahead of time. The people who react poorly in an emergency situation are the ones telling themselves that this can’t possibly be happening.
By the same stroke, fear itself and our ability to have courage is very often assaulted by our need to act like fear isn’t there. Many people have said some variation of the ideas courage is not the absence of fear, but acting in spite of it.
We save ourselves no time by pretending our fear isn’t actually there.
It takes so much more effort to act like you’re not scared, and that’s valuable effort that would be better used towards courage. It is not weakness to identify a source of fear. Rather, doing so is a mark of strategic intelligence. Point at it. Say it’s name. Memorize what it does. You will never be able to face it if you don’t acknowledge the threat it’s presenting.
Jesus modeled this in the way he talked plainly and straightforwardly about his fear and anguish, first with the disciples and then to God. Peter didn’t have to come up to him and say, “Hey, man. Are you ok?” just to have Jesus shrug him off saying “What?! Of course I’m ok! I’m more than ok! I’m great! Why would you think I’m not ok.”
Not even close. With the strength we know to expect from Jesus, he faced the fear head on, acknowledging its presence without hesitation before moving forward.
Which brings me to the next action Jesus modeled. While this one may seem like a no brainer, it’s genuinely shocking how often we forget to do this when we’re afraid. Fear is a heck of a thing that tends to push you to a place of immediacy whether or not that immediacy is actually the case. It wants you to believe that the crisis is so bad that you have no fall back plan and are on your own. This, obviously, is a lie.
Prayer is the best chance of the fearful. It pulls back that threat of immediacy and gives you a place to lay down that fear you just named. It strengthens your position and reminds you that you don’t just have an ally in your corner, but a champion.
God is always ready to calm your frightened self.
There isn’t a fear out there that he’s unaware of or unprepared for. He knew about what’s terrifying you before your first word of prayer and the realization of that as you start talking to him is one of the greatest reliefs and strengtheners out there. And don’t hold back. Jesus’ prayer in the garden isn’t a passive, noncommittal, “if it’s not too much trouble”, kind of prayer. This is a full blown bearing of heart and soul with nothing left unsaid. He cries out to God with the confidence that he is being heard and uses that opportunity to remind himself of why he’s come here in the first place.
Prayer is the deep breath before the storm. Don’t miss out.
If prayer is the deep breath then movement is the storm. I don’t care if it’s a stumble. I don’t care if it’s a crawl. Just move. Because that’s the only choice and the only play you have right now and it’s the very last thing fear wants you to do.
Why? Because if you still act out in faith despite everything you’re feeling fear loses, and fear doesn’t like losing. So it will do absolutely everything in its power to keep you paralyzed and motionless. Don’t let it.
It really doesn’t have to be much. Maybe it’s just the next thing in front of you. Maybe it’s just getting back up off the floor. Take things in as small of bites as you need to make them to keep going, but keep going.
Defying the voice of fear will always weaken its hold.
Jesus knew this better than anyone else. He didn’t wait for the fear to pass before he started moving. He would have been on his face in that garden forever if that were the case. The courage of Jesus lies in the forward motion to his fate despite the fear that had him reeling in anguish. In the midst of all his fear he uttered the famous words “Not my will, but yours be done” and backed it up with every action and movement till the words “It is finished.” Fear was present, but it was not louder than courage.
The fears that whisper their hopeless messages to you can be challenged. Like so many things, it is not forever and it does not get the last say over you. God knew the fears you would face before you ever knew their names and he will not leave you to fight those battles alone. You are too loved for that.
Let’s find some joy,