Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Courage and Cowardice

Over the past couple of days I've been seeing a theme emerge in the Facebook and Twitter posts of people I follow online. The theme is courage.

We need courage to live. There are so many things in this life that can make us fearful. Just a cursory look at the evening news can be disheartening because there are so many negative things happening around our cities, states and nation. The economy, unemployment, the crime rate... I just saw a quick blurb about a 12-year old who had been robbed. That's right, a 12-year old. A child. Robbed. Who would rob a child? It's crazy and scary.

Seemingly easy things, too, like beginning a new friendship, can cause the heart to shrink in fear. All sorts of thoughts race through the mind. What if this person rejects me? What if this person isn't who he/she seems to be? What if this person ends up stabbing me in the back? What if I fail him or her?

If we let it, fear can relentlessly dog every step we take as we go about our lives. It can be like an emotional or psychological vampire that leaves us merely existing, like we become undead ourselves.

I know a bit about this from personal experience. While I haven't been robbed recently, I have had enough experience with being rejected, betrayed and deceived to make me afraid of people and relationships.

I've been teased by work associates for being antisocial. I prefer to call myself selectively social. The reality is that people scare me. I tend to see the potential for harm as much greater than the potential for good.

Sad, isn't it?

I can do the buddy thing, to a point. In theory, that's fairly easy because buddies don't really invest a lot in each others' lives. You hang out and shoot the breeze then, when the hanging out and breeze shooting is done, you go home with your inner world safely untouched because you only showed up as a small part of who you really are. It's relating, but it's safe relating because it doesn't go very deep.

I can only do the buddy thing to a point because I get really impatient with how shallow it all feels. I mean, if we're not going to show up as who we really are, in all of who we really are, then why even bother? If it's just about being entertained then I can watch a Jeff Dunham DVD in the solitude of my own home and laugh at Achmed the Dead Terrorist or Peanut and forgo being concerned about whether my sense of humor unnerves someone. That would feel more honest to me.

My dilemma is that I truly, in my heart of hearts, don't believe it's about being entertained. In my heart of hearts, I believe that it's about real connections with authentic people showing up in the totality of who they are.

That scares me. I scare me. I fear that I'll make someone so uncomfortable he or she will close off and their personal walls will come crashing down - SLAM! SLAM! SLAM! Or I'll get that glazed look that comes over a person's face when he or she neither comprehends nor cares to comprehend whatever it is I'm saying. Or I'll show up and simply, profoundly not belong.

Have any of these scenarios actually played out in real life? Oh, yes. Yes. They have. More than once or twice.

So...I'm admittedly scared of people.

I also hate cowardice. I saw plenty of cowardice growing up - the refusal to honestly admit something or deal with difficult, emotionally charged issues with a fully engaged heart. I hated it. I do not want to be the sort of person who just glosses things over or refuses to see what's true just because something is hard.

In addition, I learned to disconnect very early on. I spent more than 30 years disconnected from myself which, unsurprisingly, made it easy to stay fairly disconnected from everyone else. It's hard to deeply connect with someone when you're not really present in your own skin.

Reconnecting to myself was hard and took a lot of work. Connecting to others is harder still because, while I can't leave me, others can leave on a whim. They have and, in all likelihood, will. I hate that, but it's reality. Facing that glaring reality makes me want to hide.


I do not want to be a coward.

However, as I look back over the past few years, years which saw me crater into such a deep depression that I put myself on medication after experiencing multiple betrayals and the sudden death of a loved one, I see that I have become a coward.

So I'm torn. On one side of the coin is my fear of people, of relationships, on the other is my powerful dislike of my own cowardice. And, honestly, I occasionally wonder if I just suck at relationships. Is it that I'm just someone who is so bad at them that the natural result is inevitably going to be rejection or betrayal simply because it's me? I don't think so, but the question still shows up.

In spite of it all, I'm sensing hope grow. Seeing the Facebook and Twitter posts about courage encourages me. Maybe I'm reading more into them than is actually there. At this juncture, I don't care if I am.

I'll take hope, and I'll take courage, where I can find them. I need them.

Don't you need hope and courage, too?


Sara said...

This may seem unrelated but trek with me for a moment. Many years ago before meeting my husband, I would pray for him and pray that God would form me into a Godly woman who could be a team-mate for my husband. That day came and winning his heart was a wonderful rush of emotions. Ten years of marriage later, I still am honored to be on his team. But recently I've found myself wondering, what would my life look like if I put that same intensity of effort into praying for the day I meet Jesus, my true love, face-to-face? And then it hit me. There is no amount of "becoming something beautiful" that could possibly win Jesus' heart. For my righteousness is as filthy rags to Him and while I was still an ugly sinner, he "fell in love" with me. At this thought, my immediate response was anger. I wanted to give Jesus something beautiful...to be someone beautiful for him. Then I realized, "I am made in his image". To become the most beautiful version of myself I need him. I cannot do or be something beautiful or desirable on my own. I am completely naked before him and he is in love with me. I think when your heart grasps the love Jesus has for you, you are no longer controlled by fear. You are satisfied with his acceptance. You find the spirit of love, power and a sound mind that are his image in you. His love in you gives you the strength to be vulnerable to others; to share his love with others, because you no longer have expectation that others will fill the lonely longings of your heart. Your love, Jesus, already sits on that throne.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post Michelle and thanks for your comment Sara. In thinking of courage, I was reminded of the following quote:
Cowardly Lion:
Courage! What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the "ape" in apricot? What have they got that I ain't got?
Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman:
Cowardly Lion:
You can say that again! Huh?
One of the things I enjoyed from the Wizard of Oz movie was how the characters ended up (almost unknowingly) developing the very qualities they so wanted as they stayed on the journey. I believe in you Michelle. And as you stay on the journey, I think you may be surprised at the courage that shows up sooner than you think. ;)

Michelle Brown said...

Thank you, Sara and Wendy, for your comments. I appreciate them, and you!