"He sees as well as you do that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality." —CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Courage has been something I've thought about a lot throughout my life, and, strange as it is, it's something I feel very strongly about. I feel that way because it seems that courage is frequently misunderstood, and in fact was misunderstood by myself for a very long time.
When most people think of courage they tend to think of the person, especially a child, who is facing cancer treatments, or the person going off to fight in battle. But there's more to courage than that—so much more! Courage is facing something you don't want to. Courage is not backing down to fear, but realizing that what is on the other side or what you believe is more important than that fear. Courage sees what is feared but looks elsewhere: to the future and hope, to their friends and family or their support system, or when all else fails, to God. Courage is not lying when you want to in order to get out of something. Courage is helping that person that no one likes and everyone makes fun of. Courage is doing the right thing or the hard thing when every cell in your body wants you to back down, run away, escape.
I've found that most of the people I've met in life have courage, and most have a lot more than they realize. I remember talking with a lady who had recently had a miscarriage. We cried together, and I commented on her courage when she told me how hard it was to go about daily tasks feeling the emotional weight that she did. She was surprised at my comment and argued that she didn't think of herself as courageous. It was my pleasure then to explain to her how her actions and her trust in God's plan for her life was more than enough to display to me the depth of her courage.
And that brings me to the last bit of it. Courage displays itself in the toughest experiences, but it can be seen in the smaller ones. Often, courage is built up in little steps, with smaller actions leading to bigger acts of courage. Let's take that example of kindness towards someone who is ostracized by others. I think a large portion of people may feel in their hearts they want to reach out, but they make all kinds of excuses why they can't (I'm right there with you, unfortunately). The reality is that it starts with the courage in the small things, then leads to the big things—the small acts of courage leading to bigger ones. Start with greeting them in a friendly way. Look for something you like about them and compliment it. Start saying those things and those small acts of courage will likely lead build your confidence to act courageously in considerable ways, possibly standing up for them when they are being ridiculed or bullied.
Do you feel you lack courage in something specific? Start with baby steps and little things. Build up your own courage. Do you feel you lack courage overall? Try finding ways to go a little outside your comfort zone, perhaps trying activities you've never done before. The more you push the limits of what you fear, the more you'll realize the courage you have within you.
What tough times have you faced in life? How did you display courage to yourself and others in those times?