To Be Brave Is Not the Same As to Have No Fear

Josef Pieper (1904–1997) was a Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher from Elte, Westphalia, Germany. He imbibed the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas but thought deeply about the rest of the Western tradition, ancient and modern (read a little more about him here). I have found his work a particularly helpful guide to thinking deeply and clearly about what it means to live rightly as a human being. His most famous work is Leisure: the Basis of Culture. If you want to get a sense of the breadth of his work, An Anthology, which he compiled at the end of his life is a great place to start.

In his book, The Four Cardinal Virtues, he describes the four virtues that the ancients considered basic to any good and virtuous life: wisdom, justice, courage (which he calls fortitude here), and temperance or self-control. In this scary time, I think we need very clear thinking about courage and fear. I found these few paragraphs a really good summary of the best I have read on the subject in the Western tradition:

To be brave is not the same as to have no fear. Indeed, fortitude actually rules out a certain kind of fearlessness that is based upon a false appraisal and evaluation of reality. Such fearlessness is either blind or deaf to real danger, or else is the result of a perversion of love. For fear and love depend on each other, and he who loves falsely, fears falsely. One who has lost the will to live does not fear death. But this indifference to life is far removed from genuine fortitude, it is, indeed, an inversion of the natural order. Fortitude recognizes, acknowledges, and maintains the natural order of things. The brave man is not deluded; he sees that the injury he suffers is an evil. He does not undervalue and falsify reality; he “likes the taste” of reality as it is, real; he does not love death nor does he despise life. Fortitude presupposes in a certain sense that a man is afraid of evil; its essence lies not in knowing no fear, but in not allowing oneself to be forced into evil by fear, or to be kept by fear from the realization of good. Continue reading “To Be Brave Is Not the Same As to Have No Fear”

Not Worrying About Finances

I’m a strong believer in budgeting and savings. You either tell money what to do, or it gets spent. You don’t accidentally save money.

That said, I’ve also learned that when it comes to household finances, unexpected things always come up. Three areas suck up money the fastest: vehicles, houses, and health. I’ve often felt very good about my cash reserve only to deplete it with a new transmission, unexpected health problems, or plumbing bills.

It’s in those times of unexpected bills, when your cash reserves start to dwindle, that you begin to worry (and maybe earlier!). I’ve worried quite a bit about finances over the years. Trying to figure out how you’re going to pay for everything is stressful!

A couple months ago, I was studying Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero with a church small group. As we began one meeting, I asked, what is it that can really disturb your peace? One person answered: “Finances.”

After some conversation, I asked, “How many bills have you not paid in the last five years?”

This person said: “I can’t really think of any.”

I replied: “Then, maybe it’s not really something to be worried about.”

After saying that, I thought of my own worry. I asked myself: In spite of all the surprises, how many bills have you not paid? I thought for a while, and I couldn’t really think of any. I might have forgotten the due date for a bill, but I didn’t miss paying for lack of money. It made me ask myself: Is this really something I need to worry about?

I am a Christian and a believer in Jesus Christ. Jesus explicitly told us not to worry about these things because our heavenly Father would take care of us (see Matthew 6 and the Sermon on the Mount). In my own case, God has not only said He would take care of me, but He has done so over and over again, often in extraordinary ways.

Reflecting on our small group discussion reminded me of something that happened 14 years ago that I had never really appreciated. After college, I worked, lived at home, spent little, and saved money. Then, I got married, went to seminary, had two kids, and spent all the money I had saved.

When we arrived in Spearfish, SD to take my first job as a Pastor, we literally ran out of money. We had nothing left. The savings got us all the way through seminary but no further.

At this point, we were not facing starvation. We could have eaten beans, taco shells, and pasta. But we didn’t have much else. Making our new home comfortable and exploring our new location was going to have to wait.

I don’t think I told anybody about our situation. However, out of the blue, our deacon came over to our house. He gave me a handful of cash and said that the congregation had collected it to help us in our move. I was stunned. We now had what we needed to make it to our first paycheck. God provided, not just for our bare necessities but for other things for our blessing and comfort as well.

We have experienced many things like this over the years, but this story is particularly precious to me because it occurred at a time when I had so little. Reflecting on this has given me greater confidence in my heavenly Father’s will to provide for me and take care of me.

Can I say that I won’t worry about finances again? No, but because of the small group discussion, I will combat financial worry with new and better weapons. I may worry, but I don’t need to.


In the movie The Lord of the Rings, the soldiers of Gondor have moved back to the second level of defenses in the face of Mordor’s onslaught. Something unknown is banging at at the gates trying to get through. Then Gandalf says, “Whatever comes through those gates, you will stand your ground!”

What if we could approach every day like that? Whatever comes out the gates today, I will stand my ground?

What if we could face the scariest situations with calm and thoughtfulness without even losing our joy?

For many, this seems like an impossible goal, yet this is our calling as humans and Christians. Doing what is right and good and just is our duty and calling no matter how challenging or scary things get. This takes courage.

So, why are we so afraid? Why do we have so much anxiety? Why do we fall apart every time there is something difficult or unexpected?

Well, have we really worked at it? Have we really tried to become courageous people? And, what would it look like to work at it?

Let’s begin by considering what courage is.

Courage requires threats. It’s no virtue to move forward when things are easy. Entering into a contest you will easily win is not courageous.

Second, courage is not being rash or imprudent. Entering into dangerous situations just for fun is foolish not courageous.

Third, courage is not lacking fear. Fear and anxiety are natural human responses to threats that can even be helpful when the threat is real. To be anxious about riding a boat into a lightning storm on the lake is a good thing.

So, what is courage? Courage is being able to move forward in the face of our fears. Courage is saying I will do my duty even though it’s hard. Courage is holding to our principles when others want us to compromise. Courage is staying in a difficult place when we need to. Courage is being able to keep our head and heart when we face real threats.

If courage is so useful and good, then how do we develop it?

Let me give you four suggestions.

First, think about your principles. What are the things that you stand for? What things will you not compromise? What are your basic principles? What would you fight for? What would you die for?

Second, think about your threats. Don’t fear what you don’t need to fear. An astonishing number of threats that we feel on a day to day basis are either imagined or remote. For some reason, I’ve always freaked out over spilled drinks. I have seven kids, and so it’s happened a lot. Then, one day, a year or so ago, I realized: this is not a real threat. It’s not something to be afraid of. I can easily clean up the spill. Over time, I’ve learned to have less or no anxiety over spills. It’s been better for me. It’s been better for my family.

Third, think differently about scary situations. See yourself standing firm. Think about what would calm you when you are afraid. A Christian has a lot of resources, but one thing God always says when He calls people to difficult tasks is: “I will be with you.” That promise can fortify us in challenging situations.

Fourth, test your courage in small situations. Learn to say “no” when you think you should and are afraid to. Learn to gently share your opinion, even when you fear that others may react strongly. Learn to say “yes” when there’s no real reason to be afraid. We can train ourselves in the small things to have courage when the bigger threats arise.

Courage is not an option. The Bible tells us: “Be watchful. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13). However, it’s not only a command. It’s a good way to live. It means that we can go forward and do our duty and experience joy even in the face of the hard and scary realities of life. If doing what is right is good, courage is what enables us to do it at all times, even when it’s scary or hard.

Courage, my friends!

The Secret to Contentment

Have you ever had a big event where you expected a lot of people to show up? You planned for a Bible study and had 25 people tell you that they would come. Then, only 5 showed up. You planned an anniversary party for 100, and only 50 showed up. Disappointment.

Getting involved with people can be disappointing. The Apostle Paul was involved with a lot of people. He was dependent on people to give him money to fund his work.

We might expect that when people didn’t give what they had promised, he might have been frustrated. He wasn’t. He had learned the secret to contentment: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil. 4:11-12).

Most of us walk around thinking that we would be happy if other people would change. If my kids would act differently, if my spouse would show me respect, if my employer was more understanding, if I had more money, if I had a better car, if I lived somewhere else, I’d be happy.

The trouble with this approach is that things outside of us will rarely match up to our expectations inside us. So, we’ll always be unhappy.

There’s another option. We can adjust to our circumstances. That’s the secret to contentment that the Apostle Paul had learned. Continue reading “The Secret to Contentment”

Depolarizing the Polarized Community

Polarization is the process of a group or family dividing into two camps that are mutually opposed to one another. Anxiety is high, and the only options the participants can see are victory or defeat. It’s what some call “either/or” thinking.

This is often the state of families when they come to counseling. Thus, the job of the counselor is to reduce anxiety and help the family to see more options.

A good example of this state of polarization in the Bible is the family of Jacob. Tension had been building for generations in this family. When Jacob ended up with children by four different wives, there was constant maneuvering between the wives for Jacob’s favor. Leah especially resented Rachel’s place of favor in Jacob’s heart and bed. In spite of her position of favor, Rachel felt threatened by the other wives and their children.

This tension played itself out in the next generation. It was the children of Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah against the children of Rachel, especially Joseph, Rachel’s eldest. The Bible tells us, “When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him” (Genesis 37:4). Eventually, it came to a point where the only option they saw to this intolerable state of affaris was the elimination of Joseph.

Notice in this story that the brothers always tended to act together. They all herd the flock. They all hate Joseph. They all go to Jacob. They all go down to Egypt. They had trouble being different from one another. This is also a characteristic of polarization. You have to act in conformity with your “side.”

It is hard to act out of principle and thinking in a state of polarization. When the brothers wanted to kill Joseph, Reuben actually felt that he should act differently. He desired to save Joseph, but he feared taking a stand against his brothers’ strong opinion. So, he ended up trying to act secretly and the result was that he acted ineffectively. Meanwhile Judah did make a suggestion to Joseph into slavery rather than killing him. The herd of brothers moved quickly in that direction together.

Was there any way out? Were there any other options?

Yes. Virtually innumerable options.

Polarization makes us think that our choices are limited, but they almost never are.

Let me just give you a few examples. They could have left the tension between Jacob and his wives between Jacob and his wives. The children of the wives could have refused to take sides with their mothers against Rachel and by extension Jacob. One person could have reached out to Joseph. One person could have said that he was not going to listen to the gossip about Joseph. One person could have stated a different opinion about Joseph. Joseph could have refused the coat. The brothers could have accepted the fact that their father had a favorite and decided to be OK with it. And on and on.

There are always more options than one thinks. One just has to step back from the emotional intensity of the situation, use a little imagination to see those options, and then act on them.

That’s how one person can begin to depolarize a polarized situation.