One of the things that makes humanity so great is our ability to overcome. There are often times when we shoulder incredible burdens, when we face the most difficult of challenges, when we climb the highest, steepest mountains. We are subject to pain and suffering, but that is part of human life. It is essential to growth, to build more resilient human beings who can bear not only their own burdens, but aid others in carrying theirs. While it may be a difficult task to accomplish, it is finding courage and grace in times of hardship that allows the human race to flourish and thrive, creating a far greater society.
Courage is not at all easy to come by. It takes strength to muster it, to manifest it into being. There are two parts of us from wherein courage takes form and burgeons out: the heart and the mind. For the most part, courage derivates from the mind. Our mentality is what determines how we navigate the journey of life, how we approach obstacles in our path and ride the waves of emotion that ebb and flow. The heart is where courage catches ablaze and burns bright, flowing out into the rest of our body. To put it into an analogy, the heart is like the furnace, where fires of hope, love, courage, and the like are all lit and burn, spreading warmth throughout the body, throughout the soul, brightening the life of a human being. But fires do not typically occur spontaneously. They must be sparked and kindled by other forces. In the case of humanity, that force is the mind. It is a powerful force that can change the way we feel, see, and act in an instant. In order to create the spark of courage, or indeed of hope or love in our hearts, we must steer our mind in the right direction.
This is not an easy thing to do, especially when we are at a challenging point in our life. Throughout each of our lives, we are guaranteed to face times of hardship. If we did not, we would not have the opportunity to learn and grow as human beings, and this would be a truly dull existence. Framing our mind to deal with these times is a task that takes focus and self-trust. The ease with which we do this depends on where we are at in our lives, what we are dealing with, and any factors that may increase the difficulty of achieving the two key factors of framing the mind.
Factors that may increase the difficulty of framing the mind to spark courage in our heart include those such as anxiety, depression, or any other mental health conditions. Stress and other factors also contribute to this. Opposite them are those that decrease that difficulty, allowing us to frame our mind more easily and effectively. Calm, peace of mind, relaxation (although not too relaxed because that can create a sense of complacency from which we can slip quickly into a world of chaos as we begin to lack awareness of our surroundings, both in a mental and physical aspect), and others can help us to quickly achieve the frame of mind we wish to enter. There are, of course, ways to transform the factors that make this task difficult into those that make it simpler. We can do this by exercising the mind in certain ways, be it through breathing exercises, meditation, closing our eyes and acknowledging our thoughts, or any other method that allows us to focus. Sometimes we need some help to find the right method/s, to order our minds. There is nothing wrong with that. It is something many of us would have done, and continue to do, and no-one should be afraid to do so.
The point we are at on our journey through life depends on the path we take, which, as I mentioned in the second edition of this series, may change as we progress. When we are at a point in our lives where things are cruising along, where we are not coming up against many obstacles, we will typically find life is easy, and be capable of framing our minds without much of a challenge. When many obstacles are in our way and we are struggling to comprehend them all, we will find that life is difficult, and struggle to frame our minds in the necessary way to deal with the blockades in our path. But then there are times when we are at a crossroads, when we come to a point where we must make a decision that will determine the trajectory of our life. These are times when we either thrive or struggle. But it is in these times that it is crucial that we are in the right frame of mind. We might be able to make a decision quickly, although this is not necessarily a good thing as it may come from a sense of complacency that has become self-defeating and has created an unhealthy lifestyle, sometimes physically, but more so mentally. When it comes to important decisions, we need to be able to take time and reflect upon the potential outcomes, but not to the point that they become overwhelming because this can significantly increase the difficulty of the decision and the time it will take to make it. Being in the right frame of mind will greatly assist us in determining which of our potential choices will lead us to the greatest outcomes for our life, both spiritually, and in our quest for growth, understanding, and leaving our mark on the world.
What we are dealing with will greatly influence how we deal with it. There is a wide-spanning array of situations and scenarios that we must navigate throughout our lives. Each individual will deal with these in at the very least a slightly different way to another. These may include things like the death of a loved one, broken family relationships, determining our career, or indeed figuring out our place in the world. There are indeed many others, but these are some of the most fundamental problems many face in their lives that take immense courage and grace to traverse.
Death touches us all at one point or another. Losing a loved one is an immensely difficult part of life to transcend. Sometimes it brings a slight sense of peace knowing that someone important to us who may have been suffering and in pain is now at peace. For Christians, we find solace in believing that when we pass from this world, our spirit moves on to the next, to the Kingdom of Heaven that God built. That same Kingdom that we all now have the opportunity to enter because of the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us. God the Father sent His Only Son to this Earth to live amongst us, to walk amongst us, to teach us how to live a good and faithful life, and to ultimately bear the greatest burden of all and go to His death on the Cross so that we would be saved from sin. Jesus knew the way in which He would die, He knew the events that would take place, and He fulfilled them to the last. Even though He knew He would suffer, even though he had such a heavy load to bear, He continued forward, and allowed it all to happen. Only someone possessing great courage could shoulder such a burden and keep going. Throughout His final hours, His Mother and some of His disciples kept near Him, following Him to the place where He was to die. His Mother, Mary, and disciple, John, watched on as He hung on the Cross, through to His last breath. They watched Him die, great sorrow filling their hearts. On the third day Jesus would rise, having conquered sin and death, but in the time immediately following his passing, there was great despair amongst His followers.
This is what death does: it spurns sorrow and pain in the hearts of those close to the person who has passed. I remember in the days and weeks following the passing of my grandfather, I was trying to contemplate, trying to make sense of why this had happened. Even in the days preceding his passing, I was deeply emotional and began questioning God as to why pop was not getting better, why he was fading away. I wondered why God would allow him to die now rather than giving us more time with him. It was indeed one of the most difficult times in my life. Compounded by mental health problems I was facing at the time, it resulted in a spiral that left me in pretty terrible shape. But in those weeks and months that followed, I found solace in the blessings we had been given in the months prior to pop’s passing. We had gone on a cruise to New Zealand with him only two months prior and had hosted him for a couple of weeks at our home during the bushfires just weeks before. Upon reflection, I was even more grateful to God for giving us these incredible opportunities to spend time with pop before he passed from this world to the next. It was these moments of grace that helped me to overcome the tremendous loss I had felt.
Death is, however, not the only hardship we must face in life. Broken relationships within our own families can be incredibly difficult to deal with. It is especially difficult when we value family greatly, and we do not wish to lose these connections we wish to have for the duration of our lives. Within Christianity, family is one of the most important things in existence. We will discuss the family unit in more depth in a future edition of this series, but for now let us dip our toes in the water. When we have known someone for most, if not all, of our lives, it is difficult to comprehend what life might look like without their presence. Yet when conflict arises in families, particularly with extended family (eg. cousins, uncles, etc.), it can create a divide, a breakdown of communication, and lead to a sort of alienation. This kind of scenario can be quite difficult to overcome, given it may not have been your doing (i.e. It may have been the doing or overreaction of the family member who has cut ties with you) and the action you take may affect others outside of yourself and the family member you are attempting to reconcile with. As someone who greatly values my family and does not want to see them divided to the point where they are unable to reconcile with each other, I will do most anything to ensure this does not happen. Conflict must be addressed and resolved, not permitted to hang in the air unaddressed creating tension wherever it is present. Sometimes, we must help to bear the burdens of others, just as Simon of Cyrene, a man entering Jerusalem on the day Jesus was carrying His Cross to the place where He was to be crucified, aided Jesus in carrying the Cross, helping Him to bear His heavy burden. It takes grace to help shoulder someone else’s burden, but it can be incredibly rewarding.
Determining our career and our place in the world go somewhat hand-in-hand. I suppose the former could be seen as a critical part of the latter. What we choose to do in life obviously gives us some sense of direction, some inkling of our place in society. Say, for example, one chose to be a journalist. They would be responsible for getting information and conveying it to the public to keep them informed. Choosing a career is not always easy, considering it will play a significant role in where you end up in life. Oftentimes people change careers throughout the course of their lives, thereby changing its trajectory to a degree. Our career choice is important in that it gives us some sense of purpose in life. But finding our place in the world does not simply derive from our chosen career. The way we live, our families, friends, and those who we choose to allow into our lives and maintain connections with, our talents and what we choose to do with them, all these things contribute to our greater purpose in this world. If we look back on the Biblical times of the first Holy Week, that is, Palm Sunday (when Jesus entered Jerusalem), Holy Thursday (the night of the Last Supper), Good Friday (the day He was condemned, sent to die, and crucified on the Cross to save us from sin), and Easter Sunday (the day of His Resurrection), we can see that Jesus Christ’s purpose was to take upon Himself all our sins, all our wrongdoing, and face pure torture and a tragic death so that humanity could be saved. His purpose was written from the moment Adam and Eve consumed the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Like Jesus, our purpose is also written, but it is on us to discover what it is. And we cannot do that without courage.
When we look back on the first Holy Week, on the first Easter, we can see that courage and grace were central to Jesus’ willingness to die for God’s people. That courage, however, did not come easily to those around Him. For the most part, His disciples hid, or, in the case of Simon Peter, denied him (three times) to save themselves. They were scared, and rightly so given the Pharisees were angered by how Jesus had taught the truth, the unfettered moral principles and laws laid down by God Himself, rather than the appropriated versions instilled by the Pharisees to maintain power and authority over the people. Jesus was courageous in breaking their rules. He knew He would ultimately pay for the transgressions of the people, and yet gracefully accepted this hardship. Jesus’ disciples did not necessarily possess the same degree of courage that He did, but there is no doubt they had some in following Him and, after His Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven, spreading God’s Word to the people. We must also remember that Jesus Himself was a human being like us. He felt pain and sorrow, particularly on the final day of His human life. He was also somewhat fearful when praying in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His death, requesting of His Heavenly Father that He would “remove this cup from me, yet not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). But His courage and grace rose to the occasion and were with Him to His last breath, evident in that even after all that the Pharisees, the Romans and the people did to Him, He still prayed for them, saying in His final hours upon the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Like Jesus, each of us possesses the capacity for courage and grace. When we face our own times of hardship, we must ensure that we focus on what matters most, and do our best keep it intact. We must navigate to the right frame of mind via methods that work to get us there and remember that fighting fire with fire is not going to help, no matter the circumstances. The only fire we should even be thinking of is the one of courage that we need to enflame within our hearts. With just a little courage, and a little grace, we can do incredible things: we can mend broken relationships within our own families, we can bear heavy burdens, help others to shoulder their own, land a job that we have been working towards, make a new connection with someone, start a relationship, stand up and speak out for what is right; the possibilities are endless.
Holy Week, the week that changed the world, all began with grace and courage. Christ’s coming into the world started with grace and courage from His Mother Mary. The greatest sacrifice made for mankind was made through courage and grace. Every time we face hardship in our lives, let us remember the incredible courage and grace that Jesus Christ showed in the final days of His life on Earth, and reflect that in our approach to these challenging times.