I don't think that if you asked me on a typical day if I thought I was courageous that I'd say yes. I think courage is one of those words we use to describe the overcoming of great fears, selfless acts that put us in harm's way physically, and doing something that seems impossible because something important is at stake. Would you call yourself courageous if I asked you to describe yourself? Would you say that you are courageous if I asked you?
The dictionary defines Courage as
I think that definition one sums up what we all think of when we think of courage. We think of extraordinary circumstances, great trials, and the overcoming of physical hurdles. And courage totally encompasses all of those things, plus a great deal more.
But what about definition #2? The definition that has been named obsolete?
The heart as the source of emotion.
It seems a curious way to define something like courage. The heart. As the source of emotion. I'm not sure we typically link emotion to our worldview of courage. I'm not sure we often even associate our hearts with courage. I mean, sure, you need strength of heart to be courageous, but to say that the heart is the definition of courage... it feels a bit of a stretch, right?
If you'd asked me a year ago, I'd totally have agreed. These days, I think that the "obsolete" definition is making quite a lot of sense to me. Courage is the heart. As the source of emotion. The thing that strikes me about that definition is what is below the surface; what is implied. Emotions are such fickle, tempest-blown, changeable things. They are fleeting, and burn hot for a while, then change, evolve, and sometimes go out completely. Emotions are inescapable, but unstable. So to define courage as the heart as the source of emotion, it has to be saying something about the nature of the heart.
So here's what I'm taking away from all of this, based on where I'm at in life right now, where God has me, and what He's showing me.
The reason that courage can be defined as the heart, as the source of emotion, is because the heart must overcome emotions to be truly courageous. Emotions can be crippling. They can be liars. Have you ever dealt with anxiety or depression? Those emotions may be real, but they are liars. They tell you you are worthless, they tell you no one cares, they tell you that you can't go on. Emotions such as grief can be utterly debilitating. Loss and grief are emotions that can pull you down into the abyss faster than you can suck in that last big breath. But life doesn't stop in the face of such big emotions. It doesn't give us a time out while we are consumed. It demands courage in the face of such things. It demands we press on. Take care of our children. Go to work. Feed ourselves. Even when it feels like our hearts have been split in two, life demands that we move forward.
So here's where the courageous heart comes in. Courage is loving and living against all odds, in the face of emotions that would demand we crumble. Courage is our heart crying out "It is well with my soul!" when our lives quake and splinter, and pain rushes in. Courage is forgiveness in the face of betrayal and lies. It is telling the devil "You cannot have my heart. You cannot have my marriage. You cannot have my spouse. You cannot have my family." when he has done his best to steal, kill, and destroy. Courage is looking at a situation that seems hopeless and proclaiming "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the , plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." and standing on the promises of the Word, such as Jeremiah 29:11. Courage is loving someone that is determined not to love you back. It's loving your neighbor as yourself. It's loving your enemies. It's loving those that have hurt you, left you, mocked you, slandered you, and so on and so on.
Courage is love. And to love is to be courageous. Out of love springs everything that we use to define courage- the selflessness that allows a firefighter to rescue a complete stranger while putting their own lives at risk. The strength of a person that sees an injustice done and speaks up for someone without a voice. I'd even argue that courage isn't a lack of fear, it's an abundance of love. After all, perfect love casts out fear, right? So instead of focusing on the absence of fear, let's focus on what lets us be fearless: an abundance of love.
This is what I'm being taught in my own life right now. It's not a super easy lesson. In fact, love is often one of the hardest choices we make, because it can cause such intense pain. To open our hearts to love is to open our hearts to the potential that we will be mocked, rejected, abused, and broken. If the easy way out didn't lead to total emptiness, running away from love would look pretty appealing right now. But running away would leave me empty. And it would make me a coward. And it would be sin, because I've vowed love. I've promised love. Against all odds, no matter what comes. So even though I don't feel terribly courageous, I'm choosing love. Because real love is a choice, not an emotion. It's forgiving all things, hoping all things, suffering through all things. It's not butterflies and euphoria. That's infatuation. That's an emotion. But LOVE...
Love is courage. Love is a choice.
Love is Jesus in unimaginable pain on the cross asking His Father to forgive us, because we know not what we do. Love is our Father throwing banquet after banquet in our honor when we finally return home again, the prodigals. Love is Jesus letting a prostitute anoint his feet with oil and her hair when others were scandalized by her actions, but Jesus saw her heart. Love is risk. Love is the laying down of our lives and our hearts and our expectations and wants for the good of another. Love is hard. It's so hard sometimes.
And that is why love is courage. Because love leads to the death of our flesh. A dying to self. Love calls us to look outwardly at the needs and hurts of others, so that we may extend mercy and grace and forgiveness. Love asks us to die. For another. Even if the person we are dying for despises us in the process. Did Jesus die only for those who mourned him as he hung on the cross? Or did he also die for the men jamming thorns on his head, and spears in his side? He was despised and rejected, and still He loved.
Still He loved.
My heart falters often. I've certainly not gotten to the place of death where anger no longer flares up when callous words are spoken to me. I'm certainly not in the place where my heart no longer screams at me to just stop putting myself out there because it's just too painful. My courage is of a small kind. But God is working on me. He's reminding me what love really is. What it really looks like in the light and example of Christ. I've got a long, long way to go before I am even remotely perfected in love, and therefore perfected in the courage of Christ. But He's certainly giving me opportunity right now to practice. To love in the face of rejection. To love in the presence of pain. To love even when my flesh curses me for it.
The thing is, I love because He first loved me. And if I had been there at Calvary when Christ was crucified, I would have been one of those He prayed for. "Father forgive her, she knows not what she does." And so I have to live the same way, and pray the same prayers even when it feels like I'm bleeding out. It's not easy. But if I closed off my heart and chose not to love, I'd simply be shoving another spear into the side of my beloved, because He chose to love me even though I put him on that tree. Even though I mocked his pain, and spat on his sacrifice. He still chose me. He still loves me. So I will choose love, no matter what the cost. It's what we are called to do, isn't it?
So if someone asks you if you'd call yourself courageous, next time answer that you are. Because if you choose love, you choose courage. You choose Christ. And there's nothing better.