When we’re talking about courage the subject of fear so often comes up, and often as some kind of opposing emotion to courage – as if we cannot be both at once.
I think there’s a vision of courage that we bring from childhood into adulthood that isn’t terribly helpful – the childhood view of adults who seem endlessly competent and able to deal with every situation – that we find, when we are ourselves adults, to look terribly different from who we find ourselves to be.
That has been one of the most interesting realizations of motherhood for me. As a child I have such vivid memories of how endlessly self-assured my parents seemed. I trusted them implicitly and it was as if there was absolutely no situation that arose in the first decade of my life that they were not completely equal to.
College students seem much the same to me as well, since I had the privilege of growing up more or less on campus at Purdue University, where I came to know and love so many wonderful young women who were my earliest role models. They seem to know everything that they could need to know – how to dress, how to do their make up, how to get into an excellent school like Purdue.
I lived in anticipation of the day that I would become like them, or become like my mother, and just know what to do all the time. Imagine my deep disappointment when I reached college myself only to discover that I still felt like I was still about 6 1/2. I had no idea what the heck I was doing and soon realized that no one else did either. And yet when I interacted with children I saw that same adoration that I had had myself. I came to realize for the first time that I was no different than the college girls I had adored as a child, and we were all of us just figuring it out as we went along.
Talking to my mom about motherhood since having my own children I’m coming to see how many times she was doing the exact same thing I do on a daily basis – completely making it up as I go along.
As we grow we began to see the separation between our childhood view of things and the way things really are, but I don’t know if everyone’s viewpoint of courage grows in quite the same way. I think that our childhood ideal of courage is one of those things that kind of stubbornly sticks around, setting up very high bars for ourselves in terms of what we should feel prior to being brave.
Sure, we intellectually embrace the idea that you can be both afraid and courageous and throw around terms like “do it scared“ and “live bravely“, but that’s one of those things where I feel like there is a gap between what we say and what we feel to be true.
So what’s to be done about this?
I feel like my experience of motherhood gives me an insight into this. The day I brought my first child home from the hospital I was more overwhelmed and terrified than I have ever been on any other day in my entire life. But there was no escaping it. I was a mom now I needed to figure out how to be one. It was a part of my identity that was not going to change, but I need to figure out how to grow into it.
And so it took doing mom things, day after day, our after hour, year after year, to begin to shape myself into the mother that I already was.
I think it’s the same thing with courage. If being courageous is something that only happens incredibly rarely in our lives, if ever, I think we’re going to really struggle to let go of that youthful vision of what it should feel like to be courageous.
But, on the other hand, if we create opportunities for courage on a regular basis, then we can become more and more the courageous person we were created to be – the courageous person God already placed inside us.