Courage, Fear, and the Ambiguities of Life
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).
When I was eight, my 10 year old brother, Rees, looked like a lumbering giant at 117 pounds playing on the defensive line of his Midget League football team. After a game, I asked him, “Aren’t you scared you’ll get hurt?” He answered, “I’m scared the whole time. But coach says if we hit the other guys harder than they hit us, we won’t get hurt.”
His answer sustained me through my football career. It also taught that courage does not preclude feeling frightened. It means not letting fear stop you from pursuing your goals.
Yet, I had so much more to learn about courage. On a football field, always hit the guys with different jerseys, not your own. But in life the enemy may also be your friend or even yourself. There may be no enemy at all, just the unfairness of life.
Similarly in football, always advance the ball to your team’s goal line, or stop the other team from advancing it to theirs. But in life, goals change. Sometimes we reach the apparent goal only to find it is the sideline. No score. Time out. Huddle.
In football, referees hover and penalize every misstep. They err, but in life it’s worse. Referees only come when called, and by the time they arrive, it’s usually, “he said, she said.” Moreover, rules conflict with each other with no independent judge to decide which one to follow, and rules designed to keep us safe in one circumstance imperil us in others.
Among his “Antidotes for Fear,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. identified courage as “the power of life to affirm itself in spite of life’s ambiguities.”
At every significant crossroad on our journeys, it takes more than calculation to choose the correct turn. It takes courage. Maps offer two-dimensional guidance on a three dimensional landscape, and many hazards and opportunities remain unknown before we act.
It would be nice if we could live our lives with set rules for every decision, but the ambiguities of life force us to search ourselves and decide from the heart. Who am I? What am I for? What do I really want? Whom do I serve?
We should consult with others and allow them to shine lights on our blind spots and muddy the waters if necessary. We should pray and make sure we listen while we’re at it. But in the end, each individual must decide and act. That takes courage.
Whatever you do at your next crossroad, I pray that you will do it in love. How nice when love delights the beloved; yet, sometimes love bruises people. May your decision nevertheless set you and others free to love. Dr. King did that. So did Jesus. If you cannot calculate the best way to free yourself and all concerned, do the loving thing that you can offer to God in good conscience. However flawed your offering, God will use it to build a peaceable kingdom.
 Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love. (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 1963, 1981), p. 119.
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