Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Australian Courage and Conquering Fear

As today is Australia Day, it seems appropriate to start this post with what I consider to be one of the most courageous moments in Australian history.

Caroline Chisholm had just persuaded the government to give her an empty barracks building as a house for female immigrants. On her first night there, a couple of rats landed on her shoulders. Instead of leaving, she put out some bread and butter for them and watched them. The next night, she added arsenic. The least she counted at any one time was seven. The most was thirteen.

Now that may not seem like much of a courageous moment. Surely, there are other people who have done way more courageous things than that. And it may not even seem like the most courageous moment in Caroline Chisholm’s life. What about coming to Australia or having nine children or persuading the government to let her have the barracks or taking in the homeless women or riding her horse, Captain, around the countryside searching for jobs for them?

Yet it is true that there are many moments that can be said to be more courageous.

But see, I’m scared of rats. Spiders don’t scare me in the least. I have a spider that has currently made his home in my kitchen window. He is right in front of me every time I wash up. He doesn’t bother me. I don’t bother him. So I’ve decided to let him stay.

But staying in a building filled with rats and having rats jump onto your shoulders. I am finding it hard to think of anything more terrifying. (To show you how deep my fear of rats actually goes, I was going to put a picture of a rat on this post. But I couldn’t do it. I started looking at the pictures of rats and gave up. It’s pretty silly when you’re scared of even pictures of rats. And I’m sorry, to anyone who is frightened of spiders.)

Sometimes the things that require the most courage are not necessarily dangerous. I’m a bit strange in that I seem to be more scared of creatures that can’t hurt me than the ones that actually can. I also have a problem with mice and moths. And I’m not too fussed about snakes. But often people are scared of something because it does have the ability to hurt them. Being frightened of spiders may be a very healthy fear to have. I have had people tell me that I should be a bit more scared of them. That’s possible true.

And it does require courage to face situations where we might be hurt. Other great courageous moments in Australian history include John Simpson Kirkpatrick rescuing wounded soldiers on his donkey or Thomas Curnow alerting the train that Ned Kelly was planning to derail. Courageous because it was dangerous.

And then there’s the fear of things like failure, loneliness, poverty and rejection. They may not cause physical harm, but they’re no less scary because of that.

I’ve heard it said that God will never ask you to do anything that you do not want to do. I think that’s a load of rubbish. I think God often asks us to do things we don’t want to do. Not as some divine punishment. But because it’s what we don’t want to do that we often need to do, for ourselves and for the Kingdom of God. And doing what we don’t want to do usually involves conquering some fears.

In the western world, Christians are not likely to face death because of their faith. But following Christ often does mean facing some other fears. There’s the fear of losing the admiration of others, looking foolish, giving up control, being rejected, suppressing our own desires, losing things that are precious to us, changing our lives and being ridiculed. And these are just some of them.

Some of these fears are unlikely to cause any real damage. Others may very likely happen and cause us some pain.

Following Christ is not about losing our fear for these things. And it’s certainly not about saying, well that looks a bit too scary, and God wouldn’t want me to be scared. It’s about having the courage to do it anyway. Truly courageous people are not those that have no fear. They are those who face their fears head on. They are those who might get scared when a few fears land on their shoulder, but instead of running and hiding, they stay and find a way to conquer them.


  1. hi Liz
    The expression that i have heard is that God will never ask you to do something that you are not capable of doing.
    You are right, real courage is acting in spite of fear - but i think sometimes the hardest thing is to recognize or admit what the fear actually is.

  2. Hi Teresa,

    I've heard that expression as well. That one at least makes a bit more sense. I wonder whether the people who say that God won't want you do anything you don't want to do are actually distorting that message. But then, they're also the people who tend to say things like 'God doesn't want you to be unhappy'.

    I agree that sometimes it's hard to recognise fear. For a while there, whenever I didn't want to do something, I asked myself whether it was because of fear. But I'm sure I have many fears that I don't even know are there.




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