“The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.”(Roman historian Tacitus)
Parenting and educating kids today is vastly different than it was 35 years ago when my husband and I were brand new teachers. One of the most significant changes we have witnessed has to do with the diminishing value placed on courage and the increasing ignorance as to its importance.
Courage back in Bible times was an assumed outcome of faith, one that regarded opposition and difficulty as occasions for victory in Christ. In the ancient Greek world, the word “virtue” or aretê was used to denote manliness, vigor, courage, valor, fortitude. When Peter applied it to moral excellence in 2 Peter 1:5, he called for Christians to put on the necessary courage in order to maintain the principles of faith and to endure the trials they would likely face.
True virtue is clearly not a tame or passive thing, rather an initiating quality demonstrated in deceasing measure in young people today. Instead the tender virtues are often extolled at the expense of the gritty ones: courage, perseverance, boldness, or strength.
Following are the shifts in viewpoint that my husband and I have seen evolve and grow over time:
- Parents tend to be adverse to risk with regard to raising their kids. While striving to keep kids safe is a worthy goal, the net has been expanded to include healthy risk that is necessary in growing a courageous mindset. From highchairs to cribs, from car seats to riding toys, we can be grateful for tougher standards that make the world a safer place for children in our country. Yet, parents have widened their protective efforts to guard their children from the pain of disappointment, from the agony that comes from making mistakes, or even from knowing the truth about how their performance actually compares to others. Many teachers today, especially young teachers, find it difficult to hold students accountable because of the pressure they will get from parents as a result.
- Today’s kids are encouraged to play games without winners or losers, where they are prevented from experiencing the real and sometimes messy, frustrating yet exhilarating reality of real competition. Yet children crave challenge so they look for substitutes in video games and simulated experiences where they can experience “danger” without risk. They can be the hero, feeling courageous and daring, without stepping out of their home and exposing themselves to any real challenge. When they can fill their need for excitement and challenge with ease, why expend their energy in the real world where they have to work hard and expose themselves to possible failure and the scrutiny of others?
- Many students today are not expected to do hard things well or even to do hard things at all. Instead they are given chance after chance to succeed in school reducing the need to face and overcome challenges. My husband, a public high school math teacher, is now required to give retakes on math exams as frequently as students demand. English teachers are expected to accept papers at anytime during a grading period. No deadlines. Furthermore, students cannot be given a report card grade of less than 50% even if they have done 0% of the work. (to keep them within striking distance of passing at all times regardless of effort) Yet all evidence points to the fact that confidence and courage grows from experiencing challenges and figuring out how to overcome them. Stress, resulting from the inability to meet the demands of higher education, is the number one issue facing college student today. We are failing our kids by not allowing them to fail and learn the hard lessons of reality and the strong connection between effort and success.
- While contemporary parents spent their free time as kids exploring and playing in nature, their children devote only four to seven minutes a day to unstructured outdoor play like climbing trees, drawing with chalk on the sidewalk, taking a nature walk or playing a game of catch. Yet, kids spend more than seven hours each day in front of electronic media. (Statistics from the Surgeon General’s Office) Being outdoors involves risk from such things as bugs, snakes, animals, & strangers. Playing outside involves getting sweaty and grimy and dirty! Playing outdoors could result in falls while running, or while climbing trees, or crashing on bikes or tumbling out of swings. But the lessons learned outdoors, that come by trial and error, and by experiencing some measure of risk, can never be learned in front of a TV or with hand held gadgets indoors.
- Kids today are admired for tolerating all viewpoints over standing up for what they believe, reducing the need to muster up courage to stand for anything. We are raising a nation of weak willed young people who strive to offend no one as they go about gratifying their immediate desires in order to “feel happy”. “Everyone has a right to be happy” so doing what one wants to do is extolled over doing what one ought to do.
- Today’s “master excuse making parents” inadvertently allow their kids to remain unaccountable for their own actions. With a handy array of excuses, they regularly ward off natural and logical consequences that their children could learn and grow from. These children grow up thinking they can perform well in comfortable smooth times but the moment difficulties or unexpected things happen, it is reason enough and acceptable for them to give up and fail. They grow increasingly risk averse and unable to meet the increasing complexity of life’s challenges as they age. They continue to believe that their problems lie outside their own control and therefore need to be solved by others.
- These same parents offer up excessive praise for anything and everything making their kids even more risk averse. “If mama thinks I am so great, I am safer to hide behind excuses than try and risk proving her wrong.”
- Today’s students are taught to put their faith in themselves above all else. “I pledge allegiance to myself”, “I believe in me” and similar slogans serve to grow a reliance on self regardless of the lack of skills one possesses. Yet confidence in Christ is the only way that true spiritual courage develops.
- Teens increasingly choose technological means by which to hold conversations, which offer them more control and less accountability. Authentic face- to-face conversations require courage to work through tough issues and to be honest with others. Authentic conversations, that happen in real time and space, require thoughtful expression. Realness requires more of us but is regarded as risky. Remaining shallow is preferred because it requires less investment and therefore less risk.
- Teens today put their faith in luck or in the law of averages. Many assume the means by which they will get rich is to win the lottery or win a lawsuit (no joke!) A. W. Tozer stated in The Knowledge of the Holy that “If we put our faith in the hands of chance or look for hope in the law of averages; as long as we trust for survival in our ability to outthink the enemy we have good reason to fear.” No wonder many live with deep anxiety today.
What is courage?
The dictionary definition of courage is a quality of the mind that results in the ability to face danger, difficulty, uncertainty, or pain without being overcome by fear or being deflected from a chosen course of action.
Courage is also about doing what you are afraid to do: winning the battle within.
Courage is a choice.
John Maxwell said that “courage is not the absence of fear; rather courage is the ability to face fear effectively. Those who don’t have courage and those who do, experience the same amount of fear. The difference is that those who don’t take chances worry about trivial things.”
C.S. Lewis stated that “courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at its testing point.”
Winston Churchill said, “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities . . . because it is the quality which guarantees all others.”
Martin Luther King, Jr called courage “the capacity that allows us to take risks, make sacrifices and to be, ‘dangerously unselfish.’”
The opposite of courage is cowardliness. Both courage and cowardliness are chosen responses to difficulties, fear and apprehensions. Choosing to respond daily to life’s challenges with courage keeps us on the high and sometimes difficult upward climb while choosing to respond cowardly grows an increasing desire for comfort and convenience.
Why do we need courage?
John Maxwell says that “your life expands in proportion to your courage.” He goes on to say that “courage is a quality required not only in times of great danger or stress but courage is an everyday virtue, needed to live life without regret.” His list of why we need courage goes as follows:
- We need courage to seek the truth when we know it may be painful.
- We need courage to change when it’s easier to remain comfortable.
- We need courage to express our convictions when others challenge us.
- We need courage to overcome obstacles when progress will come no other way.
- We need courage to learn and grow when it will display our weakness.
- We need courage to take the high road when others treat us badly.
- We need courage to lead when being in front makes us an easy target.
We also need courage to remain steadfast in our faith. Staying power is a huge benefit of courage. In the parable of the seeds in Matthew 13:21, some seed fell on rocky ground. “These are people who experience initial joy but because they possess no staying power or rootedness in them, they fall away.” Spiritual courage is the heart that sees difficulty and faces it, knowing one’s confidence is in God. Oswald Chambers wrote, “God expects His children to be so confident in Him that in a crisis they are the ones upon whom He can rely….God expects of us the one thing that glorifies Him – and that is to remain absolutely confident in Him.”
The one thing Satan will try to rob from us is our confidence in God which is not difficult to do if our confidence is built upon our own experience and self sufficiency. A genuine confidence in God is something Satan cannot touch.
How we grow courage in ourselves and in our kids?
Consider the shifts in viewpoint listed above and purpose to “swim upstream” in the areas that apply to your family.
Remember that we all have hesitations, apprehensions and fears. When we have more reasons to risk than we have reasons to fear, when our faith is greater than our worries, then we will grow more courageous rather than cowardly.
God calls us to live confident in His ability to bring change and power to bear on our lives. We are told in Philippians 4:6 to be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Don’t just read scripture. Believe it and apply it. Daily. Purpose to comprehend the nature of God – that He is good and kind and faithful: that “all that God is He has always been and all that He has been and is he will ever be!” (A.W. Tozer) True courage results from “partaking of the divine nature”, from diligently seeking to know and love the one true God, from putting confidence in Him and not in circumstances or human effort.
This is the spiritual courage men and women in the Bible walked in, the courage assumed in the quality of aretê. Add to your faith aretê …. And allow the goodness of Christ in you produce a walk of courage.
Graham Cooke states this truth beautifully: “When you are able to sit back into His rest and live in the high tower of Him so that when the enemy comes raging against you, he can’t find you—that is joy.”
Next week: My husband’s advise and experiences with regard to raising kids with courage.
The Lord is my strength, in whom I will trust, my shield and the horn of my salvation – my stronghold. I will call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies. Psalm 18:1-3
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need. Hebrews 4:16
We can approach God with boldness because we possess Christ’s righteousness and not our own. Hebrews 10:35
Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul would soon have settled in silence. If I say, “My foot slips,” your mercy, O Lord will hold me up. In the multitude of my anxieties within me, your comforts delight my soul. Psalm 94: 17-19