when feeling nervous: what’s really behind the fears
(because I’m traveling right now… and trying to remember just this…)
Who said courage wears a red badge?
It’s just khaki capris, a black tee, I pull out of the closet for a day dawning summer, me leaving the house for the heat, for appointment and errands. I have no red badge of courage, but I wear prayer, the murmur of the weak made strong in the breaking.
Fear can snap the brave bones… stiff twigs underfoot. Yes, I pray.
Pray for courage while I comb my hair, while I slip on my sandals, while I grab my bag, the keys. Pray for courage because driving into town, even just to the grocery for bananas, can break me.
They call it agoraphobia: an anxiety disorder which leads to avoiding spaces or situations associated with anxiety. I call it the vise, chokehold to the neck, crushing esophagus hard, leaving you wild to breathe. In the beginning, I took medication to ease the panic that surged in the gut, wave of terror to the throat, when I was in crowds. The last fifteen years, I take only prayer.
Then open the front door and take the first step.
I do. Courage is for the everyday wars waging in our soul.
And on the way to the city, country roads long ribbons unwrapping a morning all gilded, I spill tea all over my pants.
I get lost.
Then I am late. Ridiculously so.
Then I get a ticket. I think I might die.
“This is the reason…” I catch my reflection in the rear view mirror, mutter to me a
blotchy mess of hives, all flaming nerves. “This is the reason why you never leave home.”
The woman in the mirror is ashen and I look into her eyes and I know I should comfort, but a sharp rebuke’s burning up the tip of my tongue… When the Spirit interrupts.
“Just bow in humility to rise up in courage.” His voice comes gentle, immediately, a grace caress for the angst-twisted. I exhale, a long slow release.
Bow in humility … I whisper that comfort to pale face reflected. Isn’t it pride and appearances that box our lives up small and afraid? Who dares explore, risk, attempt, when terrified to play the fool? It’s only pride’s hunger for perfection that paralyzes a heart, keeps us enslaved to fear.
He soothes my anxiety with surprising truth: Slip on humility, make humility the mainstay of a heart’s wardrobe, and the world enlarges. Open humility’s drawer and there lies courage. Courage to go anywhere, try anything, meet anyone. Because if I wear humility, I’m not afraid of the falling.
Wear humility and what’s the worst that can happen? Exactly what has happened on a summer morning: I play the fool. I shrug shoulders and loosen all that tension. So? Isn’t humility the point? A smile pulls at the tight places. It’s the way of the upside down kingdom: let go to receive, go down to go up.
So Jesus went and I could go. Jesus didn’t find courage for the Cross in the pride of who He was or bold illusions of self-sufficiency. He didn’t find Calvary courage by pulling himself up by the bootstraps of self-confidence and self-determination. Jesus found the greatest courage of all in the lowest place of all: “he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).
Courage for the impossible can only be found in the possibility of humility because “This is the one God esteems: he who is humble…” (Is. 66:2). Courage lives in the heart of the lowly… those who can embrace humility and the possibility of imperfection … because that needy place is where God meets us.
I look at my watch, glance at the map, find that scared face again in the mirror and the laugh, long and good, begins in the pit of my stomach, precisely where it can unknot all my fears of failure. I laugh and breathe deep and bow low to rise up.
Courage doesn’t wear a red badge; courage wears humility.
maybe, just maybe, a pair of stained pants.