Courage, Part One: Word of 2017

In the past few months, I took my class through a series of lessons on courage. At the start of every lesson, I’d ask them to define courage for me. Naturally, being 1st and 2nd graders, their answers ran along the lines of, “It’s being brave,” or “It’s when you see someone hurting someone else and you tell them to stop”. We looked at the Fiery Furnace, the Lions’ Den, and Esther and learned that courage was about taking a stand and doing what was right, even when it was scary or dangerous, because it had to be done.

But, being the word nerd that I am, I knew it went deeper than simple bravery. So I decided to do a word study. And, considering the events of the last few months, this topic has become very real to me.

Note: I linked several articles I used to help me in this word study, because I’m still working it all out in my head and I know I haven’t done the topic justice. Feel free to click away; the links will open in new tabs.

Lucy looked along the beam and presently saw something in it. At first it looked like a cross, then it looked like an aeroplane, then it looked like a kite, and at last with a whirring of wings it was right overhead and was an albatross. It circled three times round the mast and then perched for an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them. After that it spread its wings, rose, and began to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little to starboard. Drinian steered after it not doubting that it offered good guidance. But no one but Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, “Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.

C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

“Courage, dear heart.”

It’s all over the Tumblr blogs I follow. People have turned it into art, tattoos, throw pillows…. It’s terribly cliche, but for good reason.

My word of the year had been “control”. I’d picked it out back in September. I had a whole blog post written up explaining why I’d selected this word.

And then this last quarter of the year hit my family like a ton of bricks.

I’m not worried about control anymore, though I’ll certainly keep it in the back of my mind. No, what I need now is some good ol’ fashioned courage.

But what exactly is courage?

First of all, for the etymology. *rubs hands together*

Courage comes from the Latin cor, which means heart. An obsolete use of the word “courage” is “the heart as the source of emotion”. (1, 2)

Cor = core. The center, which brings us to the heart. (Think artichoke hearts and apple

cores.) The heart is the seat of emotions. I was stuck on this simple revelation for the longest time.

Proverbs charges the reader to “keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” Quite literally, we protect our physical heart because it pumps blood through our veins and blood is life. But in a spiritual sense, we guard our heart as the enter of our spirit because it is how we navigate through life.

To take heart is to find courage. To encourage someone is to strengthen their heart. An archaic meaning of “heartless” is someone who is without courage as opposed to simply meaning someone who is without feeling. (3)

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Nelson Mandela

Courage is not the opposite of fear.

My next question was whether or not courage was the opposite of fear, and I found this short post enlightening. Courage is acting in spite of fear. It doesn’t mean your fear is gone; only that you aren’t letting it hold you back.

But often, being courageous moves us past fear and into fear’s true opposite: peace.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

Courage and bravery are not the same thing.

Courage is about being strong and acting in spite of fear. Bravery is bravado. Courage takes deliberation. Bravery is often an impulsive reaction.

I’m not looking to become someone who jumps into danger for the sake of it, or who takes needless risks. I’m looking to become someone who does what I know is right despite the danger, despite the fear holding my heart captive and whispering that I don’t have the

strength. I want to have the character to follow God’s lead without hesitation. I want to say “Yes” to more things; things I would rather avoid simply because they make me uncomfortable or promise to challenge me.

I want to embrace life and seize more opportunities, because I’d rather come through the challenges with success – or at least valuable lessons – instead of regret. I want to stop making excuses for not doing things. I want to keep pushing until fear is a memory and my courageous heart is overflowing with peace.

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For further reading:

Courage is a Heart Word

On Courage

Another great blog post about courage, discovered when searching for the Lewis quote

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