The Best Place to Buy Strength and Courage

I have a friend who’s father disowned him. My friend was studying to be a lawyer at the time but (to make a very long story short), decided to go in a very different direction, one that wouldn’t bear much money or prestige. So his father, not knowing what to do, kicked him out of the house.

My friend had recently become acquainted with the teachings of Jesus and decided to apply them to this situation. On one particular occasion he broke into his father’s house, shined every one of his shoes, then left a note, something akin to “I really want to be your friend.” He bombarded his father with this Jesus stuff – no preaching, no “you’re going to hell” – just merciful acts that required a level of strength and courage that few can muster. It took a really long time, but it worked.

Put that in your Bible.

This guy, in many respects, is my hero. Knowing him has changed my life. We have alot in common – lots of past hurts – but we’ve lived different lives. Whenever he runs into something difficult, he tends to chose the path that requires strength and courage. I tend to take the easy way out. It’s no surprise that he’s stronger and more courageous than I am, despite the fact that he’s really, really skinny.

I used to think that strong people were born that way, but knowing him has convinced me otherwise. Strength and courage aren’t inherited, they’re built in moments that really suck, places that are scary. We might not “win” or “prevail” when life dumps something miserable in our lap, but we’re guaranteed to come out the other side a changed person if we can somehow manage to hold fast and engage the suckiness.

We’ll change if we run away too. Weakness and fear are built in those moments when we (understandably) find some reason to excuse ourselves from the hard stuff. Ironically, it’s just as hard to stay put in the difficult moments as it is to live in weakness and fear.

One thing that we all have in common is the hardship that seems to be constantly nipping at our heels. Life isn’t fair, nothing good is easy, there are no good pursuits that don’t require some level of sacrifice, pain, and courage, blah, blah, blah. We’ll never be left wanting for hard times.

But don’t go it alone. I have another friend who recently faced a horribly difficult situation – worst case scenario – but for some reason felt that he had to figure out everything by himself. It didn’t work. To navigate the hard things alone is to fail. Every time. Mentors, therapists, honest friends, strong people, cheerleaders, etc. come part and parcel to a not-miserable life. You won’t make it without them.

If we want to have anything resembling a decent life we’ll have to get used to difficulty – let it in, stay put, give it permission to shape us into the kind of people that know joy, peace, hope, influence, etc, regardless of what’s going on around us. That’s the life we want for our kids. It’s the life that God wants for us.

Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying.
Nelson Mandela

Whatever it is inside that locks us to the ground in hard times has to be challenged, like a muscle. It can’t be worked out in a gym where everything’s safe and predictable, a place where we call the shots – it’s only stretched and shaped in dark places. The more we work it out, the stronger it gets, the easier it is to stay put – to do what’s right when everything goes wrong.

Few things are more fundamental to a great life than staying put when everything inside is telling us to run.

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”  Winston Churchill

Making Sense of Struggle

I’ve always struggled with a passage in the Bible claiming that if I can manage to persevere through my various trials, I’ll find hope.  I’d love to have more hope, we all know it changes everything, but the following’s always been tough for me:

“…we also rejoice in our struggles, because we know that struggling produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope…” (St. Paul in his letter to the Roman Christians 5:3-4).

I know many people who have courageously persevered through trials and difficult times and yet aren’t people who you would classify as “filled with hope.”  I’ve also had a few occasions where I managed to hold fast and did what was right (although not as many as I would like).  While my times of “successful” struggling have paid certain dividends, hope is usually not one of them.  I typically find myself relieved but looking over my shoulder for the next hard thing.

I think it all came together for me as I watched a scene from “The King’s Speech” a few days ago.  The scene has King George VI addressing his country with the news that Hitler has decided to conquer the world and that England’s in the way.  In addition, the King has struggled with a debilitating stammer – he can’t speak clearly, especially under pressure.  The movie portrays him as a good man, a great leader, but scared to death.   In this portrayal of his now famous speech he faces a fear that’s hounded him for the majority of his life, while fulfilling a duty that no leader desires, with Hell bearing down on him and Beethoven’s Symphony #7 in the background.  I dare you to watch it and not come close to tears.

At first I couldn’t figure out why this was so moving but a few days later it hit me.  This man’s decision to struggle through such a nightmare might not bring hope to him, but it brings hope to me.  It helps me to feel like the world isn’t such an impossible and overwhelming place, that I too can stand fast and make it through.  My understanding of St. Paul’s words (above) is now something like the following: “Perseverance in times of trial might not bring hope to me, but it almost always will bring hope to others.”

Oddly enough, this gives me hope that my life is about more than just making it through the next struggle.

I’m pretty sure I’ve missed Paul’s meaning here, but I’m now convinced that my struggles are not just about me and the consequences or dividends that might result from how I respond.   They are, at least in part, an opportunity to effect the lives of people around me – to usher in a measure of hope that otherwise wouldn’t be here.

Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92: II. Allegretto (Instrumental)