Every good story labors to unpack, unfold and hopefully resolve a central point of conflict or tension. Never a story has been told that rode exclusively on the silken waves of optimism and good humor. In this world, adversity and suffering is the board, and we are the players. As we roll the die and trudge along, we quickly realize that true victory, like true life, is only satisfying because it is achieved always within a whisper’s shot of possible defeat and death.
In the wild, we see this idea play itself out on a daily basis. Just as the antelope’s narrow escape from the jaws of the leopard inspire inward exhilaration, so too do we applaud a female cheetah who, after days of hunting, manages to snag a meal just in time to stave off hunger for her two pups.
Like the female leopard, Knox students, I assume, understand that indeterminate form and sensation of pain that grabs us inwardly when we consider what is at stake for that next exam, term paper or ensuing honors deadline. Part of us titillates at the thought of doing well, while another part recoils in fear at the prospect of failure; certainty, after all, is only an illusion egged on by the desire to feel secure.
Regardless of how we feel, we must accept uncertainty and follow our prey, our goal, relentlessly. Every botched attempt and injury will leave us weaker, but they only prime us to arrive at the breakthroughs more grateful than if we had sidestepped difficulty with a silver spoon in our mouth. A victory that did not almost turn into defeat is no victory at all; without odds, we would not be aware of our evens.
Misfortune may seem to grow in random patches, but the same can be said of the good in our lives. As Christ said of God in Matthew 5:45, “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Let us be courageous enough to be thankful for both the curses and the gifts of life. This morning, I almost didn’t get up, but God reminded me that I have to keep moving forward and let the chips fall wherever they may. He’ll take care of the rest. The courage to will ourselves to keep going is so hard to come by, and yet we need more of it, not less.
I have yet to find a better exposition of courage than G.K. Chesterton’s in his classic, Orthordoxy. He sums up everything I wanted to say so classy-like.
“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. “he that will lose his life, the same shall save it,” is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. … This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice. He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine” – (Orthodoxy 94)
May we dare to live lives of courage, not to take it easy on ourselves, but to plow through regardless of the weather.