Monday, March 01, 2010

A Good Courage

This is my talk from last Sunday:

I am not an athlete. As a kid, my idea of exercise was climbing a tree with a bag of potato chips and a Babysitters Club book. In highschool, I was on the JV soccer team. I started as a half-back which turned into a full-back and finally a full-bench. Needless to say, after 32 years of sports failure, I have become pretty comfortable with this non-athletic identity. That’s why it’s so amusing that 2010 has been dubbed The Year of the Muscle. I live with an athlete now and I’ve been inspired to attempt something new.

To this end, I’ve started taking a spin class. You may be familiar with this particular brand of gym “class” where they strap you into a stationary bike and turn all the lights down really low so they can torture you in relative obscurity. You pretend to cycle on a flat road and climb hills while a super perky instructor named Jen yells at you to ‘turn it up!!!!’. A few of the maneuvers are known as standing and hovering where you lift yourself out of the bike saddle to get more leverage as you virtually climb a big hill. The idea is to maintain as much stability as you can so that you can go faster up your hill. One Saturday, as I was hovering up the hill, my instructor got off her bike and came over to show me that I was bouncing too much. With her hands on my shoulders, she encouraged me to engage my core muscles to stabilize myself. I must have given her a look that screamed “I have one core muscle and it’s as engaged as it’s gonna get!!!” because she meekly offered the following alternative as she walked away, “or you can increase your resistance…um, if you feel comfortable.” This was interesting…increase resistance to increase my stability? Today, I’m going to talk about this concept, so hold on to that thought.

Joshua 1:9 reads “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord they God is with they withersoever thou goest.

This is the Mutual theme for this year and I’ve really become excited about incorporating it into my life in new ways. I studied poetry in college so of course I tend towards overly close readings of otherwise simple lines. I’ve become obsessed with the idea of a “good courage”. For my purposes in this talk, I’m going to ask you to assume that the use of the word GOOD is intentional rather than a lucky coincidence of translation. If indeed the word “good” is intentionally modifying courage in that passage, then how is a good courage different than just plain old courage? Isn’t all courage by definition “good”?

Traditional thought about courage might say that it is “doing something hard and not being afraid.” In keeping with my gym theme, I have to tell you that they’ve just installed a cardio theater where you can walk for hours on end in another dark room (not really sure what all this exercising in the dark says about us as a society?) while you watch a movie on a big screen with surround sound. For the past week they’ve been playing The Lord of the Rings, so you’ll forgive this Hobbit reference but I’ve seen the same scene 4 times now.

In the scene, the little hobbit dudes are thrust into battle unwittingly. They stand in the middle of the battle, close their eyes and try to look as invisible as possible until the fighting passes over them. They didn’t retreat. In effect, they were courageous – doing something hard but they missed great opportunities to make the situation better for their friends or even themselves. Where was the growth?

Joshua admonishes us to be not afraid, NEITHER BE THOU DISMAYED. I submit that not being afraid is not enough. The answer to a good courage is tied to the idea of facing challenges with HOPE rather than a desire to vanish through them or face them while praying for as little damage or change as possible.

So how do we have a good courage, or a hopeful courage in the face of challenges?

Acknowledge risk
This is your license to whine. By its very nature, courage is only necessary when the situation you face is scary enough to require it. Acknowledge that what you are doing is risky, hard and that the outcome is unsure. Let yourself fully feel the weight of the challenge and don’t judge yourself for initial fear and trepidation. This is the first step in practicing an “eyes wide open” good courage. Even Moses, a great prophet, felt fear in the face of Satan’s rantings and ravings. (see moses 1).

Trust in God
Remember who He really is and who He is in relation to you. Remember that his entire work and glory is to bring to pass your immortality and eternal life (Moses 1:39). If you don’t know how to trust in God, then study him and his attributes (Mosiah 4:9-12). As you come to understand his goodness and his willingness to provide all that is good for you, you will begin to trust his care as you move through your life trajectory.

Trust in the Savior and His atonement
Believe that it is true that He can and will and has healed your battle wounds.
Remember the times past when you have been scathed in battle and then been made whole enough to feel the sun again.
(3Nephi 11:14-15) I’m always amazed by the fact that Christ in his perfected form chose to retain the scars on his hands and feet and side. I believe that he wanted us to see, to literally feel that he can understand us, that He is connected to us in a very real way. We may still bear the scars of our fight when all is said and done, but we can be made whole and stronger through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

Trust in your own divine ability to respond to adversity with growth and change
We are children of divine parents. We have the ability to be different and in fact, we are meant to be different after challenges…it is our GIFT from a truly loving Father in Heaven.

And now back to the part about stability through resistance:
Recognize that resistance is necessary to stabilize us and accept that resistance as part of the process of life.

I know a remarkable woman named Sally Mart Unable to have children of her own, Sally and her husband (both medically trained) began the grand adventure of a family in an extremely unconventional way. They are the adoptive parents of 16 special needs children. A few years ago and a house full of children into their adventure, Sally was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer- the kind of cancer that most likely kills. After receiving her diagnosis, Sally went home and got down on her knees in a rare moment of quiet to address the Lord. I will never forget the words she spoke to the Lord and then recounted to me. She said, “Lord, if I am going to have this cancer, if I’m going to have the inconvenience and fear and pain, then let’s not waste a minute of it! Make it a doozy. (she really did use the word “doozy”) I want to get as many lessons and as much growth from this experience as possible. So bring it on!”

Sally’s attitude seems nearly impossible for me to emulate and yet there is something in that prayer that teaches me about good courage.

What if instead of cursing resistance or even hiding from it, we embraced it?

What kind of power could we harness if we changed our perspective from one of self-pity to one of understanding and opportunity?

What peace and hope could it bring into our lives and the lives of others?

I imagine that Sally had a great amount of stability in the moments of resistance that followed as she relied on the Lord and her own understanding of the trial she was experiencing. That resistance helped her to engage completely new muscles and trained them to meet the weight of her challenge. I’m sure she also had moments of well-deserved whining and confusion. But overall, I think she understood that a good courage is one that builds us regardless of the outcome and finally allows us to acknowledge God’s will in all things.

A good courage will look different for each of us.

Maybe it’s giving love another chance after a particularly painful breakup.

Maybe it’s waking up and praying even though you haven’t heard the voice of God clearly for a long time and you’re unconvinced that today will be the day.

Whatever it looks like, a good courage brings us closer to our true identity as capable, strong children of God with the possibility of miracles in our hearts. It reconciles us to ourselves and unifies us as a church and a community.

The truth is that resistance is inevitable and there will definitely be times when it’s ok to stand in the middle and pray to go unnoticed as the battle slides overhead. There may even be times when God answers that prayer with that outcome. But more times than not, we will be on our bikes, standing and hovering, sweating and pushing ourselves to our limits because the HILL MUST BE CONQUERED. In those quiet, most difficult moments if we have prepared to do so with a good courage, I KNOW that God will also answer our prayer with an increased measure of stability and peace and muscles that help us bear the weight of our challenges.


Jon said...

I attended a lecture this weekend and the guy quoted Joseph Campbell, who coined the phrase, "Follow your bliss." He said most people don't quote the second part of that (I think because it's not so warm and fuzzy) which is, "your bliss is at the core of your suffering." That part hasn't found its way onto a bumper sticker for some reason.

Sarita said...


Alie said...

Well said, I wish I could have been there to hear it in person. I miss you.

Anonymous said...

I was just thinking of you and thought I would check in. What a blessed couple of minutes I've hd reading this blog. Even during your "stabilization" you are amazing. I am convinced now more than ever that you are one of His favorites. I know you are one of mine!