Living with Courage
When I reflect on the idea of courage, a particular moment from high school stands out in my mind.
Two of my close friends (both of whom happened to be large, broad-shouldered, football players) were physically brawling in front of our school. Upon realizing what was happening, I marched my 5’6” frame through the crowd that had gathered to watch, and positioned myself right in between the two boys yelling, “Stop!” By the grace of God, and my cat like reflexes, I ducked just as one of my friends threw a powerful fist at the other, ignoring the fact that I was standing between them.
I dodged the punch, but did nothing to alleviate the problem between them.
So much for my heroic moment.
Though friends praised me for my act of courage, I felt silly and small.
Leaning into society’s definition of “courage” can cause us to act in misguided ways in the name of being courageous. We might step into battles that are not ours to fight.
In contrast, if we believe we lack this human-derived courage, we might stand hidden in the crowd, helplessly doing nothing as we watch injustice occur. Sometimes, we find ourselves “courageously” throwing the first blow, even against those we love, all the while unaware of those trying to help us. Understanding the difference between worldly courage and God-given courage helps us to discern more clearly how and when to act.
The word courage is currently quite trendy, often used as a mantra to kick people into gear —
“Speak up with boldness and courage.”
“Grab life by the horns.”
“Have the courage to make things happen!”
“You are fearless!”
“Roar with courage!”
When I pause and reflect on God’s design, I am not so sure this is what God had in mind when He uses the word courage in the Bible.
In Hebrew, the word courage, chazaq, means: to fasten, to bind, to restrain, to be hardy and strong.
The idea that courage is the act of ‘fastening ourselves to God’ conjures up an image of being deeply rooted in who HE IS and what HE SAYS about us. This premise allows the courageous one to withstand any storm and step into battles that are bigger than we could otherwise handle alone.
But it doesn’t come from within us; it comes from fastening ourselves to GOD.
Within my counseling office, I see the most intimate sides of battles. From trauma and abuse recovery, sex addiction, anxiety, depression, struggling marriages, you name it — God has shown me that courage is not about saving ourselves, saving others, or being the one to take the battle head on. Ironically, it’s about standing still and trusting Him and His voice. It’s about being so in-step with His heartbeat that I take action only when He says ‘go,’ and I stand still when He cautions me to ‘wait.’
Courage is really about trust: Trusting that I am loved. Trusting that I am known. Trusting that as my roots go deeper into the truth of God’s Word, I can withstand any storm that comes my way AND stand alongside others in the midst of their storms.
This is what 1 John means when it says, “perfect love casts out fear.”
We see this kind of courage in biblical characters like Queen Esther, Daniel in the middle of a lion’s den, David facing the unbeatable Goliath, Gideon, and even the Samaritan woman. These narratives are not about courageous human beings who ‘took the bull by its horn.’ They are not about individuals bearing the weight of the world on their own shoulders, nor are they about running mindlessly into a battle to save the day (no matter how compassionate or concerned we are).
These narratives are about a Sovereign God who chooses to use His trusting children to move mountains in His ways and in His timing.
Courage is trusting a God who sees and who saves.
Living with courage is living loved, known, redeemed, chosen, delighted in, forgiven, and significant. Though it can take time to know this on a gut level, eventually it can grow into something that is as unconscious as breathing.
Like a tree in the forest that grows slowly over time, the strength of our trust grows with every experience we have watching God win a battle in our life or in another’s life. Often the battle is won in ways counter to our human instincts. Those who trust in the Lord are confident, says Jeremiah 17. Courage is found in the root systems of our lives, not in the condition of our being.
Jeremiah 17:5-9 says it this way:
“This is what the Lord says, ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.’
‘But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.’ The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
I live in the midst of old growth Oregon cedars, oaks, and maple trees. Often I watch these trees from my window as they change throughout the seasons; their tall majestic presence reminds me how all creation cries out to our powerful God, the One who spoke the heavens and the earth into existence without the help of anything or anyone else.
One particular stormy afternoon, I faced a battle with anxiety as I imagined one of these enormous trees falling right into my living room onto my precious family. My imagination took over and I played out every ‘What if?’ scenario. Fear gripped me and I instantly called an arborist out to our property to assess the threat. Through the evaluation process, I learned that these large trees have been tested by time, seasons, and storm after storm.
They withstand these trials, because they ban together under the surface, intertwining their root systems. With every storm, their roots deepen, allowing them to sway back and forth without fear of falling. The only trees vulnerable to falling were those without a community of linked roots underneath them, or ones that had shallow root systems making it difficult for them to take in enough water in times of drought.
Just like the trees around my house, our root systems play an important role in how we get through the storms of life.
These trees provide beauty, shade, homes, oxygen, and sustenance to all who depend on them. A tree planted by the water does not fear and even has green leaves in seasons of drought. This is what I have come to find helps a woman ‘courageously’ face the truth of her porn-addicted husband; or allows another to ask for help when she is struggling with severe depression.
This is the courage that helps us to take off our masks and let others see the scars of our stories. This kind of courage allows us to speak to our friends with honesty, letting them know when they hurt us. This courage knows God has His children’s backs in the midst of a battle, and helps us stand tall and confident, like a tree, as we fasten ourselves to Christ and His power that is made perfect in all our weaknesses (see 1 Corinthians 12:9-10).
The deeper a tree’s root system and the more trees it is intertwined with, the healthier it is, the more it grows, and the longer it remains — season after season, storm after storm.
We might not typically think of trees as being a symbol of courage, but they provide a poignant word picture for us as God’s children.
The prophet Isaiah speaks of the Messiah, Jesus, telling how He would come to set the captives free, bind up the brokenhearted, give crowns of beauty instead of ashes, comfort all who mourn, and give double portion of grace instead of shame (v 61). Isaiah 61 goes on to say that all who find this Messiah will be called “oaks of righteousness, a planting for the Lord for the display of His splendor” (v 3).
These oaks (those who live in relationship with Jesus) provide a safe haven for those around them and display God’s glory for all to see what He has done in and through them. In other words, the more we surround ourselves in honest community and believe who God created us to be, the more courage naturally grows; our roots gain strength, sustenance and endurance when interlocked with others who can help us discern God’s cues in our lives.
Years of walking alongside those who are weathering some of the hardest storms one could imagine allows me to witness the most remarkable miracles as women (and men), lean into the One who says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Isaiah 43:2).
The key word is when, not if.
The storms are inevitable in a fallen world. We cannot do this alone. However, with God, and a few other trees at our sides, courage can be our way of life, in any season. No longer relying on the world’s definition of courage, we can keep in step with the King of Kings and trust that He knows, He sees, and that the battle has already been won.
The goal is to trust and to allow ourselves to be in courage so that we can discern God’s voice for our specific journey. This way of living leads to slaying giants, saving a nation, rebuilding the walls, restoring what was lost for generations, and facing our enemies with confidence.
What if courage was not about us, but was about our God?
When we find ourselves rooted in who God is and who He says we are, believing Him at His very word, then our size, our skills, and our stories never determine the size of our courage. Now that is courage.
Terra is PASSIONATE about peeling away the layers that keep us from living loved, shrinking our integrity gaps, and experiencing the fullness of grace. She is married to her best friend and business partner, Jeff, for 18 years and is a “soccer and volleyball” mom to two girls. Jeff and Terra co-founded Living Wholehearted, LLC in 2011, a counseling and consulting organization in Tualatin, Oregon after years of full-time pastoral ministry. As Clinical Director and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Terra has met with clients in private practice for 15 years in addition to writing, speaking, and leading retreats around the nation. Inspired by her own girls and sharpened by 20 years in ministry, leadership, and mental health, she founded Courageous Girls, LLC, a national movement and curriculum that equips moms with biblical and clinical wisdom for every stage of their daughter’s growing years in order to raise up a generation of courageous girls who are rooted in grace, resiliency, and unwavering purpose. After publishing her first book for women, InCourage: Daughters Rooted in Grace, she is so excited to announce InCourage 2020: Let’s Talk About It, a women’s gathering with 40 plus guest speakers to truthfully dialogue about the issues that plague women today. In her “spare” time, you will find Terra napping, folding laundry, collecting eggs from her 15 chickens and one duck, or drinking a hemp caramel vanilla latte as she reads the same sentence over and over in a book she planned to read three years ago.