Courage, Dear Heart

10409698_10206151243802795_2120341249846675801_n“The thing about bravery is that when you are being brave, you have no idea you are being brave.  You only know that you must do what you have to do, just like he (Pastor) was describing: you know you can’t go back, you can’t stay where you are; you can only keep moving forward. And so you do it, in faith, which isn’t really your own, any more than the strength to do any of the going forward is yours either. All of it is a gift.”  -Jennifer 

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “there are no ordinary people.”  I thought of that quote when my friend, Jennifer, wrote the above to me yesterday.  I am so blessed to have some extraordinary friends, who are constantly reminding me of what courage is and Who it comes from.

My pastor told a story yesterday in adult Bible class about how when he was a missionary in Papua New Guinea, he drove his Land Cruiser across a gorge on two planks, so that he could preach the Gospel on Christmas to people who asked him to come. The gorge was deep.  The planks were narrow.  If he drove off the planks, his car would still be there today.  And who knows about his health: considering they don’t even have aspirin readily available in that country, the medical services leave much to be desired.  But he said sometimes being brave doesn’t involve much choice: you can’t go back, you can’t stay where you are, you just have to go forward.  Later, he told me that after all that, he got a few more miles down the road, and he had to turn around because the road was impassable and too dangerous.  And here is his heart: first, he felt bad that he could not preach for the people who had asked him to come. Second, he realized he had to go across that gorge again. I asked him if it was easier the second time. He said it was harder, because he had more time to think about what would happen if it didn’t go well.  He kept going, though, with lots of prayer.

“But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, ‘Courage, dear heart,’ and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.”  C.S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader

I have a friend who is starting chemotherapy today.  Going through each step: the blood draws, the CT scan, the CT scan results, the surgery to put the port in, and now going to get the chemo infused over several hours, requires the same kind of bravery.  You can’t go back to not having cancer.  You can’t stay where you are.  You can only move forward, wondering what God has in store for you. But she is not alone.

My friend, Jennifer, who wrote the quote above, understands bravery.  She has been through cancer herself.  She said in the same conversation that being in the hospital the last time was what she imagined it was like being in heaven: the physical intensity, time moving differently. The hospital is also a place where it is most clear that we live depending on God for his mercy everyday.

C.S Lewis said in a beautiful book called The Great DivorceThere are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ And those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’  

This is the choice that Christians face now.  We no longer live in a culture that is friendly to us. As Pastor pointed out in his sermon yesterday, John the Baptist got his head cut off for speaking against the sexual norms practiced by the rulers.  We will go through trials for speaking against the cultural norms of our time.  We face a time where we cannot go back to the way it was, we cannot stay where we are, we can only go forward.

But we never go anywhere alone.  Everyday, we relearn that we are dependent on God for everything that we have.  In Lamentations, Jeremiah writes about the suffering of the people of Israel: “I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light…He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones…”  Yet in the middle of this suffering, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’  The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.  It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

And Luther says, “But they who in…suffering trust God and hold on to a good, firm confidence in him, who believe that he is well-pleased with them, see in their sufferings and afflictions nothing but pure and precious merits, the costliest treasures which no man can assess. For faith and confidence make precious before God all that which others think most shameful.”  (preface to Lamentations, Lutheran Study Bible)

The most beautiful people I have met are not the ones who are only beautiful on the outside, but the ones who are also beautiful in faith.  When afflictions come, they get on their knees and say, “Lord, have mercy.  Thy will be done.”  As Jennifer said, we cannot even do this by ourselves: all of it is a gift from our Lord. He takes care of us more than we could ever know. We worship a God who is abundant in mercy.  When we face trials, He gives us everything to move forward through them.  Because of His grace, we can get on our knees and say “Thy will is always good.  Thy will be done.”  And we can trust that no matter what happens, it will be ok.