Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling one’s heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds.
But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage.’
There are times it is incredibly hard to know how much of your heart to share – both in public forums such as blogs but also among smaller circles of close friends, as well. Yet especially with my education in counseling, I know how important it is to be honest and forthright and to be real. So much healing begins, or happens, when we speak from the heart. But we can’t have that degree of openness and honesty with everyone either.
Being honest and real, speaking about heart things, and sharing our stories, oftentimes means taking a great risk. As Brené characterized it, doing so does require ordinary courage.
While walking in the middle of a hard season, life can be messy and not fit into a nice little box, wrapped with pretty paper and tied with a fancy bow. My life right now looks a lot like a present a five year old tried to wrap up, using every scrap of wrapping paper instead of one large piece, and then trying to hold it all together with duct tape.
Over the last few months, the dreaded, “How are you?” question arises in most every conversation or communication I have with someone. It’s a question that flows almost immediately from the word “Hi…” Many ask because it’s become the culturally standard greeting and expect a simple “Ok/good/fine” type of answer, but some truly want to hear a genuine answer.
Among those wanting to hear an answer beyond our rote replies, even then I think people fall into various categories: those who want to hear a true, heart-felt answer (or those you would entrust with that sort of answer), those who want more than an “ok/good/fine” type of answer but rather a relatively real response, and those who only want to hear the type of answer that is within their comfort level, which typically also includes the answer bearing good or better news than they may last have heard.
These last five and a half months, my story hasn’t been neat, tidy, or pretty.
There’s been no happy ending. Much of what people have prayed about God seems to be answering in ways contrary to what they’re praying and believing. And, really, even if the health stuff were to change in an instant – which I know is not at all beyond God…it just doesn’t seem to be what is in His plan right now – the price of these months has been tremendously high in every other aspect of my life, leaving so much of it in tatters even if my health changes instantaneously.
I know that reality is not any cheerier or easier to swallow for the people dearest to me than it is for me as I live it day in and day out.
Thus figuring out how to reply to that little “How are you?” question is incredibly complicated. And when, with some, I give even a minimal and largely vague answer, but still acknowledging things remain difficult, and then get a “That’s not what I want to hear” response, it’s hard to even know what to say.
Do I reply to that with an apology? I mean, I wish my answer could be different, and if they even knew a fraction of what was going on they’d realize that I tend to err way on the optimistic and hopeful side of what I’ll tell most people. But what that reply really does is make me want to do is just limit or “tidy up” my answer even further with many people, but then I’m not only being dishonest, I’m preventing myself from getting the support and prayers I need.
So that’s what I’m wrestling with at the moment – how to balance ordinary courage and sharing my story honestly, with knowing most people, even some of those quite closer to me, only want to hear the neat and tidy answers, something I can’t give and still be speaking truthfully.