This is part 4 of my blog series on courage. I am dissecting the six (alleged) attributes of courage. To recap, the first three attributes are: feeling fear but choosing to act, persevering in the face of adversity, and following your heart.
The fourth attribute is expanding your horizons and letting go of the familiar. We can all think of people who are willing to do this. In my mind, one of the most courageous ways to exhibit this is by being open to reading materials that are contrary to your own views, and being willing to learn from the experience. It sounds small, but it is not. How many Christians are afraid to read a book about atheism? A lot. However, how will you grow in your faith if you can’t understand opposing points of view?
My model for this attribute is my husband, Eric. He is 48 (tomorrow!) and for most of his life, he traveled rarely. When he did travel, it was to fun and familiar places. Nothing wrong with that–but if that’s all you do, you are missing out. Eric took a huge leap of faith a few years ago and decided to sign up for a mission trip in India with Operation Smile, a non-profit that performs cleft palate and other facial deformity surgeries in the majority world, where there is a lack of funds or medical care, or both, to undergo these surgeries. The life changes that these surgeries bring are amazing–in some cultures, children and adults with cleft palates and facial deformities are considered cursed, and they are shunned. The surgeries literally change the prospects of these people.
Eric had never been to India. To be quite frank, Eric had never really traveled anywhere that could be considered anything other than “white” and “resort-like.” He had never taken a train with thousands of people. He had never ridden on a bus with chickens. He had never encountered a culture so different from the U.S.–the sights, the sounds, the smells of India were overwhelming at first, and then completely intoxicating as he experienced the beauty of the country.
The experience of working with people who have endured years of social stigma and malnutrition, among other problems, related to the facial deformities was life-changing. And it never would have happened if he hadn’t been willing to let go of the familiar, suburban existence that is his life. That letting go has turned into a habit. He leaves this Sunday for China on another Operation Smile mission. He’s hooked on letting go of the familiar.
One unlikely candidate for a courage award, who lived thousands of years ago, also was willing to let go of the familiar and expand his horizons (and influence) exponentially. Moses was brave in lots of ways, but when God asked him to go into Egypt to speak to Pharoah, and free Moses’ people, the Israelites, Moses was not terribly intrigued by the idea. Moses fled from Egypt years ago, after a slight misunderstanding (actually, a murder) involving an Egyptian who was beating an Israelite. Moses took care of the Egyptian, buried him, and fled. Needless to say, Moses was very comfortable in his new town of Midian, even if he wasn’t exactly on the greatest career path (he shepherded his father-in-law’s animals).
Moses was tending the flock when God made the request. Moses posed the typical questions we all might pose when there is a new challenge ahead of us but we feel so unworthy and unqualified. His argument to God went something like this:
- Why are you asking me? (I don’t even own my own sheep!)
- When they ask me who sent me, what do I say? (I’m my father-in-law’s lackey, and lack street cred)
- What do I do when they don’t believe me? (They will clearly laugh in my face)
- Also, what are we going to do about the fact that I am “slow of speech?” (I am a horrible public speaker and probably will faint at the sight of an audience)
- And last, why can’t you PLEASE send someone else? (Did I mention my father-in-law wants his animals back?)
God had to get angry with Moses, but Moses finally decided to take the challenge. He didn’t sound too happy about it, though. He went back to his father-in-law and said, “I’m going back to Egypt to see if any of my people are alive.” (Moses was also a glass-half-empty kind of guy at the time too).
Anyway, Moses, armed with some crazy miracles God gave him to use if necessary, went into Egypt, and it was no easy assignment. It took a long time and a number of plagues before he literally wore down Pharoah, and the Israelites were freed.
Then Moses set off on his next reluctant mission, wandering around for 40 years with moaning Israelites following him.
Moses, reluctant though he was, willingly expanded his horizons and let go of the familiar shepherd’s staff, trading it in for some crazy miracle props, adventurous trips and one fabulous stroll through the Red Sea.
Am I saying my husband is like Moses? No. Except for the hair color.
But I am saying that there are examples all around us of people stepping out of their comfort zones and making impacts on other people’s lives every day, in large and small ways.
When did you last really step out of your comfort zone for the benefit of someone else?