I have been thinking a lot about courage recently. Thucydides said that “the brave are simply those with the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and notwithstanding, go out to meet it.” This is grand courage, the kind of courage that leads to last stands. Those with this kind of courage don’t necessarily know the future—whether it be glory or danger, exaltation or humiliation, wealth or privation—but they know that they would rather die well than live in a hole, in the shadows, afraid to risk security for a better tomorrow. This is the courage of a pilgrim, who leaves his or her homeland for the promise of a better world: he or she would rather journey forever in weariness and want, in hope of a different future, than dwell in plenty with despair and discontent. Both of these people understand that there is a bigger picture than the immediate.
This is the kind of courage that it took for me to quit my job in June and embark upon a journey to another calling, which is to be a lead pastor and plant a different kind of church. As I move down this road, I do see clearly the danger: that I may well have committed career suicide, and how in a year’s time, I may reach a wall or a cliff. It may be danger that I am encountering, and not glory. However, I can project forward a year, and know that if I fail, I will have no regrets for making this move, and that I will never look back nor turn back. I would rather die having tried than live in the smallness of compromise and under-achievement.
Courage also shows itself in small ways. As I was hooking up my son to his nebulizer so that he could stop coughing at 1:30am this morning, I acknowledged again that fact. Courage may not be as obvious in the small things, but it is equally present, and perhaps cares more deeply for the bigger picture. For example, when you need to confront someone, do you 1) send them an e-mail, 2) call them on the phone or 3) meet them in person? One of these options takes the least courage, and is like throwing a grenade over a wall. This person is the one who just wants to get something off his or her chest, but is not interested in the long term damage; all that they can visualize is their “need” in the moment, and the bigger picture—the “clearest vision” is lost. One of these options, however, takes a lot more courage, but it is focused on the greater goal of reconciliation.
There is a bigger picture than the immediate, and those who are able to tap into that fact and let it inform their behavior are the ones with courage.