It was famously said by Franklin D. Roosevelt that we have nothing to fear but fear itself (unless you were unfortunate enough to be a Japanese American in 1941 or one of FDR’s political opponents, I suppose). In a recent movie preview I saw, one of the characters said that danger is real, but fear isn’t – fear is a choice. I’m not sure we need a precise psychoanalytic definition of fear to govern most of our conversations and activities, but we do need to understand the role that fear plays in in our lives.
I’m not a big fan of John McCain the compromised career politician, but in 2004 he wrote a very good piece on the subject of Courage. He noted that courage requires both fear (which provides the opportunity) and love (which provides the motivation). He said, “Courage is that rare moment of unity between conscience, fear, and action, when something deep within us strikes the flint of love, of honor, of duty, to make the spark that fires our resolve.”
Mr. McCain also made some insightful observations about the relationship between courage and other virtues, and the necessity of courage to avoid corruption: “Without courage, all virtue is fragile: admired, sought after, professed, but held cheaply and surrendered without a fight. Winston Churchill called courage “the first of human qualities . . . because it guarantees all the others.” That's what we mean by the courage of our convictions. If we lack the courage to hold on to our beliefs in the moment of their testing, not just when they accord with those of others but also when they go against threatening opposition, then they're superficial, vain things that add nothing to our self-respect or our society's respect for the virtues we profess. We can admire virtue and abhor corruption sincerely, but without courage we are corruptible.”
I was always taught the maxim that if you’re prepared, you don’t need to fear. I like that as a maxim because of the plain truth it teaches, but it needs to be understood a little more deeply in order to be truly effective. First, what does it mean to be “prepared?” If you limit yourself to just physical preparedness – food, water, clothing, shelter, fitness, monetary savings, etc., you’re only part of the way there. What about emotional, mental, and spiritual preparedness? When challenges arise and hard times come, our responses are necessarily a combination of all four areas, and we are much more successful if we are prepared in each of them.
Of course, it’s harder to define what it means to be prepared spiritually, mentally, or emotionally, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be working on it. Can I continue to learn new things about how the world works? Yes. Can I engage in serving others who are suffering and thereby better understand the emotions of difficult circumstances? Yes. Can I turn to my Maker for advice, assistance, and comfort? Yes, constantly. At the same time, I can’t ignore the physical, whether it be my own health and wellness, an emergency supply of food, water, and other basic necessities, or a plan for physical emergencies.
Still, with all of these areas of preparedness well-buttressed and actively engaged, I can still fear. That’s okay, because I also know that my potential for courage is increased, and if love forms the foundation of my preparations, then I am almost assured (in theory, at least) of being able to give a courageous response in time of trial.
In the end, if I am sure in the knowledge of who and where am I in relation to God and what He has promised … if I truly trust Him and respect Him (which is what He means when He tells us to “fear” Him) … if I am avidly recognizing the worth of others and constantly learning how to care about them … then I have no need to fear, even if the challenge given me is to sacrifice my own life. Perhaps it is this eternal perspective, some of which is innate but must be developed and refined, that most fully empowers courage. And if I don’t teach my children how to have the same kind of courage (whether they choose to reject that knowledge or not), then I will quite literally have hell to pay.