Let me tell you something that I am learning: The definition of courage is not the absence of fear.
Let me explain……..
All too often, I fall into the trap of believing that people who possess a quality that I admire are just born with it. That somehow, someway they woke up and life blessed them with certain qualities and outlooks that are naturally integrated into their personality.
It’s easy sometimes for me to look at someone who is joyful, a quality that I greatly admire, and assume they have naturally been that way their entire life. I’ll look at someone who is peaceful and silently say to myself, “If they had been faced with the conflict I’ve faced, there is no way they would be that peaceful.” I’ll see someone who is kind and think to myself, how easy their life must have been for them to not have to deal with the scars and rough edges that life can bring.
I’ll see someone courageous and believe their courage is a direct result of the absence of fear. Surely they have courage because they have never known true fear.
This quality of courage is one that is incredibly important to me. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am well aware of the scriptures that implore me to live my life with boldness and courage for the sake of my savior. Scriptures such as:
Psalm 31:24 “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!”
Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
2 Timothy 1:7 “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
If you have been around church for any length of time, there is a good chance you have run across some of these verses as well. Living a life of courage is essential to following in the footsteps of Jesus, as we have the command to share the Gospel boldly to a world in need.
The problem I have, and maybe you do to, is that while I completely agree that I must live my life with courage for the sake of Jesus. However, all too often, my feelings are just the opposite of what courage is. I mentally agree that courage is an essential quality to have. Then on any given day I turn on my news feed and see yet again proof that our world is coming unglued; causing feelings of uneasiness, anxiety, and fear to arise.
While I don’t consider myself to be a dramatic or overly emotional person, I must admit that I get discouraged. I understand my role is to be courageous in the times that I live in, but I don’t necessarily always feel courageous. It is in those moments, I wonder if something must be wrong with me to not always feel the quality of courage that I am asked to act on according to the scriptures.
I become discouraged because it has become apparently clear that I was not born with the quality of courage I so desperately want.
It is under that backdrop that God taught me such an incredible lesson recently.
Last week my family went to the beach for a week long vacation. We spent the entire 7 days building sandcastles, riding waves, soaking up sun, and playing in the pool. It was truly an amazing getaway! It was during one of our times at the pool, however, that God taught me a valuable lesson about courage.
He taught it to me through my son, Davis.
For those who don’t know my 6 year old son, Davis is extremely afraid of swimming. Not just scared. Not just a little nervous. I’m talking about horrifically mortified about getting in a body of water and swimming. He doesn’t like shallow water. He doesn’t like deep water. He is afraid of diving boards, hates cannon balls, gets annoyed with splashing, and is not a fan of playing Marco Polo.
Why is he so afraid you might ask? When he was 2 years old, my wife and I enrolled Davis in a week long swimming class designed to teach him the basics of swimming so he would feel comfortable in the water and would have survival techniques in case he accidentally fell into a pool without us around. The teacher did a great job teaching him the techniques and I’m sure has a success rate on 99% of the children that she teaches.
Davis was the 1%.
He absolutely hated the lessons. Each time we would drop off Davis he would start to cry uncontrollably and would spend the next 30 minutes looking for us frantically while the teacher was in the pool teaching him.
Before you think we were cruel parents, we were honestly just trying to help. His teacher was incredibly professional, friendly, and kind. Even after the lessons were over, Davis would perk up and tell us that he was learning so we kept on letting him attend.
The problem is that the lessons did the exact opposite of what we wanted them to do. Instead of giving him the confidence to be in the water, it created a fear in him to run away from it. Even though Davis could actually swim, he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to be around the pool. It made him nervous, unsure, and scared.
Fast forward from then to this past week. After years of encouraging and loving him through his fear, Davis had finally reached a place where he would go in the pool and swim with some sort of floating ring on for support. He had even gotten to the point where he would jump off the ledge of the shallow end without his ring on to play. He was making progress and we were thrilled!
But there was still fear. He never would fully commit to swimming without some sort of safety net. The pool was still a place that caused anxiety and dread for him.
But that all changed this past week.
Day 2 of our vacation came and we found ourselves at the pool. Kim, Madison, and I were having fun swimming around and goofing off. Davis was with us, but still had his floating ring on and was acting a little nervous. We were in the middle of playing a game where both my kids would jump off the ledge into the pool and were seeing who could make the biggest splash. Davis was doing a great job of splashing but the ring he had around his waist was limiting his mobility when he jumped and his ability to splash when he landed in the water.
So that’s when he did it. All of a sudden I looked up and saw my son do the most courageous thing I’ve ever seen him do. Without any prompting from my wife or I, he slowly took off his ring. He looked at me and asked if he jumped without the ring would I catch him. After assuring him I would, he backed up about 5 feet from the ledge of the pool and got set.
I looked at my son and could still see the nervousness and fear in his eyes. I knew this would be an absolutely monumental moment for him if he could just muster up the courage to do it. Him jumping in that pool to me (And at this point we were in the deep end, not the shallow) would set him free for the rest of his life. But he had to be the one to make the choice. I couldn’t do it for him.
As I watched him, I saw him make the decision to block out all of the fear, anxiety, and noise telling him not to do it. In one moment, I saw him make a choice to override his fear. He began to run at the pool ledge with full steam and jumped without looking back.
As he was jumping, I heard the whisper of God say to me “True courage is not the absence of fear.”
It was at that moment I realized what it truly meant to be courageous. Davis wasn’t courageous because he had no fear. Davis was courageous because he overcame his fear. He didn’t let fear stop him from acting. When it came to his decision to jump in the pool, fear was ever present for him. But he overcame his fear through action.
That was the definition of true courage.
After Davis jumped in the water, I caught him. But in so many ways his act of courage caught me. With his fear conquered, he immediately used his new found confidence to swim back to the ledge. On his own. Without a floating ring. He spent the rest of the vacation swimming in the shallow end. Swimming in the deep end. Jumping off every ledge imaginable. Performing splash inducing cannon balls. And having the time of his life in the pool.
Me on the other hand, I was ensuring that my heart didn’t fall out of my chest because of the amount of pride I felt for my son. God used his act of jumping into a pool to teach me what real courage looks like.
It’s not the absence of fear. In fact, I would argue that fear is the necessary ingredient needed to allow courage to rise to the top. How could I, or you, ever be courageous without the feeling of fear. In fact, I would argue that fear, worry, anxiety, doubt, insecurity, and nervousness are the backdrops that God uses to teach us what real courage looks like…….as long as we let it.
People aren’t born with courage, it develops in them every time they refuse to bow down to fear.
That’s the key. As long as we don’t allow fear to define us and cause inaction, then we can actually use it to set the stage for some of our most courageous moments. Courage arises against the backdrop of fear.
So what are you afraid of today?
What is it that has brought you fear?
What has you held down in anxiety?
What makes you nervous?
Is it a pattern you are struggling to break? Is it a conflict you are entangled in? Is it worry about tomorrow? Is it a concern about provision? Is it your kids, your job, your safety, your loneliness, your health, the world around us, your limitations, or your past?
And here’s the most important question – Which one of those fears controls your actions?
(Take as much time as you need to reflect on those questions before moving on)
Can I offer you some hope as you wrestle with your fear? God’s promises for our lives are the most secure place we could ever jump to. While never easy and rarely comfortable, God promises to watch over every part of our lives like a good father would. Just like I would have never let Davis drown once he jumped in that pool (Which was kinda the point in putting him in swimming lessons at 2 years old. But anywho……..), God’s intention for our lives is to never let us drown. The Bible is littered with promises from God asking us to trust him and to let go of fear.
Any guess as to what the most commonly used phrase is in the Bible?
You guessed it.
Maybe some of you inaction when it comes to fear is that you don’t fully know the promises of God for you life. Can I encourage you to find out for yourself the beauty, safety, and comfort the word of God offers for your life?
Maybe some of you know the promises of God and are struggling with the reality of if you can really trust Him. If that’s the case, can I encourage you to be courageous?
Can I encourage you to make the choice to override your fear with action, believe God’s promises for your life, and jump?
Is it easy? Nope. I fully admit I have a better time writing these words than living them out.
Is it worth it? Yep. Any courageous leap of faith onto the promises of God will always result in freedom and a new confidence in who you are in Christ.
Courage is not the absence of fear. Fear, if we allow it, can be the backdrop to some of our most courageous acts.
Whatever you are afraid of today, I want to challenge you to be courageous. As you trust in your heavenly father you will find strength needed to overcome your greatest fears.
Davis was courageous. You and I are called to be the same.