by Michael D. Williams
Tragedy struck very close this week. People I care about have become so discouraged that they have struggled to move forward in their lives at all.
Living takes courage-the confidence to move ahead despite the very real risk that we might not succeed at what we try to accomplish. To try to live a great life-or to do great things-takes great courage.
I like the definition of courage from The American English Dictionary: "the state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence, and resolution; bravery".
The term originates from the Middle English and Old French term corage, meaning "to take heart". Coeur is contemporary French for heart ; Coeur d' Alene means "heart of the mountains".
It takes courage to develop a new skill, try out for the basketball team, or to take a college course. It takes courage to patiently explain to your son why he cannot take the car without asking first, or to reach out to touch your spouse on the hand during a disagreement.
It requires a degree of courage any time we attempt to do something where a potential for failure or partial failure exists.
Discouragement, on the other hand, is the lack-or loss-of that will to push on in the face of risks. Discouragement keeps us from trying things that might not turn out as we hope. It dissuades us from moving forward and keeps us right where we are.
When the Savior spoke about the conditions that would prevail before his return to the earth in glory, he said, "And in that day shall be heard of wars and rumors of wars, and the whole earth shall be in commotion, and men's hearts shall fail them, and they shall say that Christ delayeth his coming until the end of the earth." (DC 45:26, emphasis added)
He clarifies the nature of this "heart failure" in Section 88, verse 91: "..and surely, men's hearts will shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people." In this section referred to as the "Olive Leaf", a message of peace, the Lord explains that discouragement-the failure to take heart and have courage-would be a common scourge. People would be overwhelmed and fearful to move forward toward worthy goals and aspirations.
No, I do not claim this as a condition entirely unique to our day. But as I carefully review the scriptures and messages from living prophets it is evident that this failing of men's hearts will be a common condition; we must guard against our losing faith and confidence.
So where does one get this courage to take on new challenges and opportunities? Why are some so willing to jump in with both feet while others wait nervously on the edge?
Courage is not the absence of fear or concern. It is a way of thinking, determining that some risks are simply worth taking; the potential gains from success outweigh the risks of not succeeding. It also means keeping in mind that even trying is, in itself, often a measure of success.
Courage is a skill. It is developed through effort and hard work. Often the hardest part is simply tolerating and accepting the possibility of not accomplishing all we hope to. Like any skill it takes focus and practice.
We would think our son foolish if he never picked up a ball for fear that it would not hit its target the first and every time. Yet we adults often shy away from things we believe we should and could do, for fear that it might not turn out quite as we had in mind.
Courage is an exercise of faith. The Lord often calls us to do things beyond our current experience or level of personal confidence. He has often promised us-collectively and individually-that we will accomplish great things as we move forward in spite of the apparent evidence that we cannot. Faith is moving forward with confidence in God's promises and abilities despite my native limitations. As I exercise faith in His promises and direction, I demonstrate my confidence in Him. I cannot begin to describe the great blessings that have to come to my family as my wife and I sought to do those things the Lord has directed us to do, even when the world and our own "wisdom" suggested it was foolishness.
Parents can help to instill courage. Parents give a great gift to their children when they seek to encourage their children. By acknowledging the efforts their children put forth, and not always the complete attainment of a goal, they help their children to see the successes and partial successes they have attained. They can congratulate their children for their willingness to try or to even start worthy endeavors. Wise parents express love and acceptance all along the journey, not waiting for perfection before expressing their approval and appreciation.
Parents sometimes get so caught in nurturing and pushing for obvious measures of success that some sensitive children vow never to put themselves in a position to fail. Perfectionism almost always results in overwhelming discouragement and paralysis. Failure is then the guaranteed outcome for that child.
Perhaps we would also be wise to redefine what it means to be a successful person, or even what it means to have a great life or to be a great person. Perhaps a measure of greatness would be a willingness to work and try and persevere toward worthy goals despite stumbling and fumbling along the way.
The ancient Egyptians had a funny way of viewing the eternal judgment. They believed that our hearts would be weighed as the measure of what we had become.
We would do well to look more to the eternal standards and directives of a loving Eternal Father, rather than seeking the approval and fearing the criticism of others. Then, after all we can do, and despite our challenges and shortcomings we can meet our Savoir and our Heavenly Father with the confidence that we sought to do what we were called to do, with all of our heart, might, mind and soul.