I have been thinking a lot lately about courage. Supposedly a better translation of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 is the heroic woman. She is said to “laugh at the days to come.” That never made sense to me. Laugh? Why does it say laugh instead of, “she’s not afraid of the future” or some such thing?
I have said two words to myself a lot over the last 5-6 years. “I can’t.” And when I think about the circumstances it’s almost laughable how I proceeded to do exactly what I had just said I couldn’t do. Each time I was afraid – sometimes I was terrified – sometimes it was more of a panic deep down in the gut. Sometimes I was facing a particular event; sometimes it was just another day of life that I didn’t think I could live. Every single time I said, “I can’t,” and then, suddenly, I could and I did.
Yay for me, right? Not by a long shot. (Insert snort.) I didn’t have a choice. Ten times out of ten I would have changed my circumstances in order to avoid what I was afraid of. If there was any heroism involved it was rooted in my panic stricken pleas to Jesus: “Please don’t leave me!”
I suppose courage doesn’t mean simply living through something that makes you afraid. Courage means carrying the burden of fear with grace and dignity. Courage means fearing God more than circumstances. Courage means laughing (laughing!) at whatever the future holds. I long for courage.
I think there is a proper kind of fear in a Christian’s heart. When Jesus said, “don’t be anxious about anything” I don’t think He was saying don’t ever be afraid. He was human. He knew fear; He lived with it all His life. After all, He knew what His future held. It doesn’t make sense to tell a suffering and afraid Christian, “Don’t be afraid. Everything will be ok.” Seriously? Sometimes things are not ok.
If it’s not unfaithful to be afraid then there has to be a faithful way of handling fear. There seems to be a very deep chasm between being afraid and laughing at the days to come.
But maybe there isn’t a chasm. After all, the heroic woman will have plenty to fear. As soon as she becomes a mother a whole world of fear opens up to her and that’s where she has to live – she doesn’t have a choice. Having started my journey to motherhood with infertility and loss I was introduced to a world of fear earlier than some, but it’s the same world. Bearing fear as a burden was something I started doing before Judah. But having him now has only brought more fears into my heart.
I suppose that’s where courage comes in. Courage has to start with honesty. There are things to be afraid of and that’s just the way it is. Courage is acceptance. Courage is fearing God more than circumstances. Courage doesn’t say, “No big deal. I’m not afraid.” But courage also doesn’t say, “I can’t.” Courage says, “If you want me to, I will.” Courage is praying for strength and then living like it has been given. Courage gives the laughter because whatever is coming is not unknown to the One who brings it.
Or, to put it simply and much more eloquently: “What time I am afraid I will trust in you.”