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How can I overcome fear with courage?

Jan 20, 2015

Love makes us do dumb things. I know from first-hand experience.

I met my wife during my first year of seminary. She was attending the church where I was on staff. We got to know each other as she became involved in a program I was leading. Like any couple in the 21st-century, our relationship developed over email, texting and IM. Eventually, we had our first date – an early morning breakfast. One of the first things I remember us doing together was playing basketball.

Photo Credit: smile KB via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: smile KB via Compfight cc

Now what you need to know is I don’t play basketball. I don’t mean I don’t play basketball well. I mean I don’t play at all. When I actually made a basket, I was overwhelmed. I think I even yelled! The excitement I felt plus the hormones that were coursing through my body – they led me to make a really bad decision, though. As my wife picked up the ball and headed back to half-court (we were playing one-on-one), I gave her what I call a “love-pat” on the butt. (Later, she would say I slapped her butt.)

Yes, I know. What was I thinking? I’m not really sure – I don’t think I was thinking. We weren’t officially anything. Let’s just say she didn’t respond well. She began channeling her college basketball self, the one who played power forward. The self that loved her role as “the enforcer,” who would knock other girls out of the game. I was about to get to know this side of my wife.

She began backing me up to the hoop. As we got closer and closer, I got more and more nervous. Finally, she cocked back and threw her elbow into my nose.

As I screamed and doubled over in pain, she moved passed me, making her lay-up. As I checked again and again for a broken nose (still in one piece) and blood (nope, everything is dry), she looked at me and said, “don’t touch my butt.”

I learned an important lesson that day – one I still carry with me today.

There is a fine line between gusty and stupid.

From that moment forward, I developed a healthy fear for the woman I now call my wife.

Fear. It’s something we can all relate to. Regardless of how much money is in your bank account today, no matter the kind of residence you call home, we all know fear. Sometimes, we’re afraid of speaking in public, spiders or enclosed spaces. Other times, we’re afraid of failure, awkward situations or actually succeeding in our work.

I wrote about fear last week and how we misunderstand it. In the post, I shared eight new ways to think about fear.

Fear talks to us everyday. It gets in our heads and spews common lies to deter and distract us.

“You’re not fit for this.”
“You’re not good enough”
“This isn’t your responsibility.”
“It’s not worth the risk”
“What if they don’t like what you’re making?”
“You’re in over your head and they’re going to realize it soon.”
“Give up.”
“Why would anyone want what I have to offer?”

Fear keeps us from doing the work we were created to do, from pursuing the things we dream of accomplishing. Jack Canfield once said, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

If fear is a problem in our lives, then what is the solution?

Courage.

When I Googled a definition of courage, I found a couple interesting statements. Courage is “the ability to do something that frightens one” and “strength in the face of pain or grief.” If this is what courage means, then we are all capable of being courageous. While we may doubt our ability to be courageous, we have no doubt that courageous people change the world.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the Civil Rights Movement to the forefront of our nation, in spite of incredible, often disgusting amounts of opposition. He stomached fear, pain and grief, moving forward undeterred. You can read reports of Dr. King believing that he would one day be killed in pursuit of his cause, yet he continued forward.

William Wilberforce led the campaign against slavery in 18th and 19th century Britain. He gave his life to the abolition of slavery and the reformation of manners. In talking about his work, Wilberforce wrote,

I take courage—I determine to forget all my other fears, and I march forward with a firmer step in the full assurance that my cause will bear me out, and that I shall be able to justify upon the clearest principles, every resolution in my hand, the avowed end of which is, the total abolition of the slave trade.

How can we see courage enable us to overcome our fears?

1. Start with humility.
In his book, Uprising: A Revolution of the Soul, Erwin McManus wrote, “Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the absence of self.” If McManus is correct, then it is not the departure of our fear that catapults us into action. Our humility and concern for others provokes us to act. When we become moved by the plight and condition of those we care about, we will move courageously forward in spite of fear. True courage emerges from humility.

2. Expect courage to moves you towards your fears.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Joshua 1:9. God is speaking through a messenger and He says to Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

A couple years ago, when preaching on this verse, I researched the meaning of the Hebrew words used by the writer of the book of Joshua. I learned the word for strong means “rooted and anchored in truth, the core of who you are”.

When I think of that meaning, I imagine a CNN weather reporter, covering the arrival of a hurricane, standing amidst the wind. As I remember watching countless reports like these, I imagine the strength it takes to remain standing and not fall over.

In addition to strength, I also researched the meaning of the Hebrew word we translate as courage. The Hebrew word for courage invokes the idea of “urgency, momentum, moving forward into the unknown, that which produces fear”. If strength stands in the face of hurricane-force winds, then courage stands against the wind, leaning into that which makes you afraid. We will discover courage when we stop running from our fears and start running towards them, realizing they do not need to dominate our lives.

3. Recognize courage always involves vulnerability.
Many of us resist courage because we prefer safety. We prefer protection and security. We avoid vulnerability and exposure. I also believe we avoid courage because we confuse it as something that belongs solely to “heroes”. Few of us see ourselves as heroes and so we fail to see ourselves as courageous ones.
In her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brené Brown writes,

Heroics are important and we certainly need heroes, but I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage. Heroics are often about putting our life on the line. Courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. If we want to live and love with our whole hearts and engage in the world from a place of worthiness, our first step is practicing the courage it takes to own our stories and tell the truth about who we are. It doesn’t get braver than that.

Vulnerability is essential to human success. To be human is to be vulnerable. When we reject this idea or work to concoct another kind of humanity where we are immune and secure in every way, we are rejecting our fundamental nature. Discovery, human connection, learning, growth – all of these demand vulnerability.

4. Never forget that the path to success passes through dangerous places.
I was corresponding with a friend recently as I did some networking for the book I am currently writing. In talking to this friend (a published author himself), he shared his take on the current state of publishing. His sense was publishers are looking for a sure thing, someone who is already successful. By accepting only these kinds of authors, he believes publishers are seeking to minimize risk, almost to a fault.

I know from conversations with friends in the business community that this issue is not limited to publishing. Many kind of businesses in our economy minimize risk and exposure, for good reason. The long-term effects of the Great Recession caused them to rethink their approach to vulnerability and risk. I appreciate the concern for profit and loss, the need to stay in business as a company. However, as I think about my life and you think about yours, we must ask ourselves if we are living with an overly cautious spirit. When we seek to avoid every dangerous angle in our lives and protect ourselves at every turn, we achieve safety…but at the cost of success.

While the movement from fear to courage can be complex, the essence of courage comes down to a simple act – a person says “yes” to an opportunity. One act of courage may have massive consequences. One act of courage may produce monumental change.

One of my favorite movie clips involves a father and a son talking about fear and courage. This conversation from We Bought a Zoo remains in my mind today. (If the clip is not showing up below, you can watch it here).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmMFIganRQY

Today, I hope you move towards your fear and discover 20 seconds of insane courage. Something great can come from one action today.  

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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