Monday, March 14, 2016

The Courage Found in Reading

The other day my son said, “I wish we could know the future.” Who, as a young person, hasn’t wished the same at some time? We who are older and wiser, as in, more experienced with some of the things the future brings that we are glad not to have known ahead of time, thank God for His wisdom in protecting us from knowledge of the future.

Still, we all, to some degree or another, fall into fearing the unknown tomorrows, whether it is some possible life-altering catastrophe or just getting past a difficult situation. Learning not to worry is a discipline. I have often joked, but with dead seriousness: “Life is worse dreaded than lived through,” meaning that going through an unimaginable circumstance or situation we have feared, usually is easier than we feared it would be.

Regardless, we can’t change the future. Or can we? Certainly we do not control the unpredictableness of the phone call from a friend far away with four small children who has suddenly just lost her young husband. I reel in shock, wondering how she will get through the next few days, months, years without him. It makes my daily fears for how I will meet this or that deadline or figure out what to make for dinner Friday night seem ridiculous.

As so often happens, especially when you daily pick up some book and read, answers to life’s perplexities fall like jewels into our hands. Wisdom descends like a gift from the page. In this case, it was the convergence of themes that was fortifying to me. I happen to be reading several novels at once that all speak of the courage needed to live in ordinary and extraordinary circumstances, one a Roman officer 20 centuries ago in hostile Britain, one a girl in the resistance movement in France in World War II, one a boy trying to find his way in 1960’s America with an abusive father. They all inspire me with their courage. I think of my friend in shock and grief; I think of my impossible schedule for tomorrow.

Then I read Ourselves by Charlotte Mason to prepare for my discussion group and her wisdom leaps off the page with its simplicity and balance:
“The Courage of Our Affairs––The form of fear that is inclined to fret and worry and become agitated under any slight stress of circumstances, darkens into anxiety in the face of some success we are striving after, some calamity that we fear. Anxiety obtains more sympathy than other forms of fear, because the person who is anxious suffers much, and the cause for anxiety is often sadly real. But we do ourselves injustice by being anxious. We have been sent into life fortified, some more so, some less, with a Courage which should enable us to take the present without any fearful looking forward. And, indeed, we do so, the feeblest of us, when we are kept fully employed by immediate things. That is how mothers and wives can go through months of the nursing of their nearest and dearest with cheerful countenance. They tell you they dare not look forward, and that they live from hour to hour, and so they are able to bring happiness and even gaiety into the sick-room, though a sorrowful end is before them. If this noble Courage is possible in the face of coming grief, it is also possible, if we would believe it, in the face of lesser
matters––coming examinations, coming losses, coming distresses of every kind, even that worst distress, when those dear to us fail us and fall away from godly living. "Let not your heart be anxious" (R.V.) is the command of Christ. The command presupposes the power of obedience, and it is for this that heavy things are spoken of the 'fearful and the unbelieving.'”

I thought I would share this with you today, knowing we all have fears, anxieties, concerns about seemingly unresolvable problems--great and small ones. I could not help, upon reading this passage of Mason’s, but think of Elisabeth Eliot’s response when asked how she coped with being widowed twice in succession: “I get up in the morning, wash my face and comb my hair, eat my breakfast, pick up the broom and sweep the floor.” In doing “the next thing,” she found her way through the unbearable future before her. God has so made us that it is possible to face what’s next by doing the next thing, by taking the next necessary step, and, trusting In the wisdom of the God who made us, to know He has made our sometimes faltering hearts to also be able to take courage.

All these reflections have rolled through my mind from the reading of books, and I am grateful once again for the gifts they bestow when we turn the next page, because we never know what we will find in the coming unread pages.

For the joy of reading,



  1. Oh goodness. What a shot in the arm! Thank you for these good words, Liz. As a frequently anxious person, I must constantly practice "the next thing," and I, too, am grateful for stories and admonitions (like Miss Mason's here) and practices that keep me present in the present instead of racing ahead to calamitous ends and trying to bear the imagined future along with the real present.

    1. Kimberlee,

      I need this "shot in the arm" on a regular basis, so I write about it to give myself a double dose.