We all need courage.
That’s why it plays such a prominent role in movies and books. Could we walk to our death like Harry Potter, if doing so would save everyone else? Or stand up to a mad king, like Bilbo did? We hope we’ll never know. Nevertheless, these heroes’ bravery inspires us to live a little bolder, feel a little stronger when we face crisis, just ask my son, Josh.
My Son Chose Hope
When Josh was 8 years old, he broke both femurs in an accident. I can’t begin to describe how heartbreaking it was, as a parent, to watch my little boy suffer. For weeks after his surgery, we slept on couches in the front room, so I’d be only a whisper away. He’d wake hurting, despite his high-powered drugs and I’d rub his feet, to soothe some of the pain. I remember one night, in particular, staring at the full moon as it hung in our window, wondering why my boy had to go through this.
Bravery is choosing to never give up.
In the space drama, Interstellar, the human race teeters on the brink of extinction. Starvation and illness spread rampant due to persistent drought, dust storms, and famine. Yet threads of hope and courage are woven throughout the film in the form of excerpts of Dylan Thomas’s famous poem:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
This poem is one of my favorites, as it speaks not only to facing death with courage, but to remaining brave amid unthinkable adversity. Such bravery is always rewarded, if not with success, freedom or life, then with hope and strength of character. Over the years, I’ve seen that in Josh.
Persistence over time pays off.
I don’t know why Josh had to suffer. Was there some cosmic reason or is pain and misfortune simply part of this mortal life? I don’t know the answer but I do know that he is stronger. Even now, six years later, he thinks back to the accident. It made an impression on him, letting him know how tough he really is, how brave he can be in the face of terrible pain, how resourceful when unable to walk for three long weeks.
He’d scoot up and down our halls, even managed to navigate our stairs—on his bum, of course. A few weeks after his injury, he spoke in church, using a walker to reach the podium. His message was one of hope and endurance. Six weeks later, he was hiking the Sierra Nevadas. He took his time, but he made it.
Have Courage Every Day.
Viktor Frankl, the noted Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
This was the choice facing Cooper in Interstellar when life on earth seemed doomed—give up and die alongside his family or fight for a chance they would survive, with the caveat that he might never see them again. We are not often faced with such dramatic alternatives. But in our day to day lives, we struggle with how to choose hope instead of despair, how to be happy while in pain.
Sometimes, when in a crisis, our spirits rise as if giving a rallying cry. We grapple tough situations. We fight off discouragement. But what about when the crisis drags on for weeks, even years? What about when it becomes a horrifying way of life?
Corrie Ten Boom, another holocaust survivor, wrote, “Happiness isn’t something that depends on our surroundings…It’s something we make inside ourselves.”
The question is, how?
Find hope and joy in lifting others.
As with Cooper in Interstellar, when we think more about the needs of others than our own sorrows and difficulties, we find the strength to do what may otherwise seem impossible. I’ve known people who suffer incredible, unrelenting pain. But instead of focusing on themselves and complaining to anyone who will listen, they strive to lift others’ burdens. This brings hope and happiness to everyone involved.
Build a strong network of social support.
That doesn’t mean you can never complain. Everyone needs a shoulder to cry on from time to time. When I was waiting in the hospital for Josh to come out of surgery, I called my dear friends, Bonnie and Gerald, to see if they could drive my other kids to school the next morning. Bonnie took care of everything and sent Gerald to the hospital to sit with me. I was in such shock that I didn’t even realize I needed comfort, but as soon as I saw him, the floodgates opened. I desperately needed the love and support they and many others gave us.
Research shows that social support is a vital component to happiness. It is important to build a strong network of relationships with people you care about and who care for you. But strong social networks don’t happen by magic or overnight. It takes effort to build and sustain relationships.
But it is possible, even in the most difficult situations. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl describes concentration camp prisoners who comforted others, who gave away their last piece of bread. Instead of collapsing in despair, they built friendships; they nurtured hope and happiness in themselves and others.
Corrie Ten Boom also writes about finding hope and courage. “Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” Our outlook on life makes a difference. And if our mind-set often leaves us discouraged, we have the power within us to change it.
It takes time to modify thought patterns but it can be done. Set a goal targeting specific detrimental thoughts and replace them with a more positive way of thinking. For example, if you have a tendency to compare yourself with others, work on becoming aware of this and replace it with something healthier, such as honest admiration of others’ strengths. Then track this goal daily. Over time, you will begin to see progress, not only in your goal, but in your approach to life overall.
What adversities have you struggled through and how have you held to hope? How have you grown through hard times?