What does courage look like? Lately, for me, it has looked like an empty bedroom with stuffed toys sitting on an undisturbed bed. Beloved knick-knacks are arranged just so, waiting for their fastidious collector to return home. Shadows linger on the walls, eager to be dispelled by the light and cheer of its occupant. My 14-year-old son has been more than 4,500 miles away from home for the past two weeks, and each time I pass his room I must remind myself to breathe and be brave.
Ian MacLaren, a 19th-century Scottish theologian, urged, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” The more closely I pay attention to my story and the story of those around me, the more I realize this is true. The battle can take a myriad of forms: fighting for love, facing an illness, holding on to hope, searching for meaning, grieving a loss, or embracing the unknown. It can even look like a mother staving off fear while her son is an ocean away. Regardless of its form, the battle requires courage.
All too often I drift through my days unaware—unaware of the battles others may be facing and unmindful of the battles with which I contend.
MacLaren’s words encourage me to open my eyes to the battles that are raging and to respond with kindness. He calls for comprehension and compassion. As I’ve pondered this idea, I’ve turned my gaze to the women in my life, and I’ve been awed and encouraged by these valiant warriors.
One friend is under the knife today, receiving an unexpected hip-replacement. What she thought was a muscle injury months ago turned out to be much more. Now she faces weeks of recuperation and rehabilitation—not exactly how she intended to spend her summer.
One friend learned this week that her beloved dog is terminally ill. Her faithful companion who comes to work with her, stays by her side, and brings so much joy to her and to others likely has only weeks to live. She must prepare to say goodbye so much sooner than she imagined.
One friend continues to adjust to a new hometown, 600 miles away from family and friends. Her husband has work; her daughter has school; and she has to find her way. It can be lonely when there’s no one to call for a coffee date and conversation, and it requires courage to reach out.
One friend received the news that her mother passed away after an extended battle with Alzheimer’s. My friend has lovingly and patiently cared for her mom as memory slipped away; however, she was out of town when her mother died. She will return home in a few days to face her loss.
Friend after friend, story after story, I sit in reverence of these beauties courageously facing the battle. They arm themselves with faith, hope, and love, and their battle cry sounds like a song of praise. It may be offered in pain, sorrow, melancholy, or fatigue, but like David, they declare, “In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid” (Psalm 56).
As I read the Gospels, I see Jesus affirm the courage of his followers time after time. Whatever their plight, Jesus compassionately meets their need. When the woman with the issue of blood touches his garment, he offers more than healing, but he graces her with his notice and affirmation. When John the Baptist asks, “Are you the one?” from his prison cell, Jesus demonstrates his deity so John can hold on to hope until the end. When Mary is criticized for anointing him with expensive perfume, he defends her and honors her extravagant worship. Jesus is our provider, our strength, and our hope, and he meets us in our battle personally and intimately.
As I write, my son is somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean flying home. When I think of this, my stomach tightens into a knot and my heart races. I walk to his bedroom, tidied up and waiting for his return, and I turn on the lamp. Shadows flee as the light floods the space. I slowly breathe in, and I ask for courage to wait, to trust, and to believe. “Be strong and courageous,” I hear. “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you” (Joshua 1:9). He is with me in the battle; he is with my son in the adventure.
I slowly exhale, turn off the light, and go to bed. Tonight I rest in his presence and in his promise. For me, this is what courage looks like.
Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 21 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.