All the habits I have discussed so far in this series for a family that wins are critical practices. But this sixth habit is the one that often gets the least attention—courage.
Anias Nin once said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
I had the opportunity to go to family camp this past fall, an event that’s become somewhat of a tradition for our family. We drive to the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, where we spend a few days getting to know each other. We grow, challenge, and learn from each other.
And each year at family camp, we find that they add something new. Last year the new thing was to climb to the top of a pole in a challenge called the Leap of Faith.
We each had to climb up a telephone pole—about twenty-five feet up and eight inches in diameter, stand on top of that little eight-inch circle, and then jump out ten feet to grab a trapeze bar.
Talk about a leap of faith!
I watched my boys, one after another, climb to the top of the pole, stand on top of it, and leap. They were so inspiring that my girls also went up on top of the pole.
And then, of course, there was Dad.
I obviously had to go, and so with the encouragement and the support of the kids telling me to climb up the pole, I did. I managed to climb up and nearly reached the very top of that pole. I literally had one step more to make.
This is probably a good place to mention that I once heard that there are only two fears that we are all born with: The fear of falling, and a fear of loud noises. The rest of our fears are simply acquired.
So, yes, the natural human fear of falling was really kicking in then! That last step was the killer! I just couldn’t get myself to make that last step onto the little eight-inch circle at the top.
Finally, thanks to my caring family who cheered me on, I managed to take the final step and stood on top of that pole.
I took a few minutes just to look out across the beautiful mountainous countryside—and then I saw the trapeze bar. It looked as if it were easily fifty feet away!
But seeing no alternative, I mustered up the courage and took my leap of faith.
Much to my own surprise, I actually grabbed the bar with my sweaty hands and held on! I’m not saying I am all that eager to try it again, but I did it.
So what was the point of this exercise anyway?
It was designed to force us out of our comfort zone and to exercise courage. Our family experienced courage together that day. It was such an awesome, powerful experience for all the kids and for me.
As families, we have to learn how to harness this courage. We have to be intentional about it. But how do you go about developing this essential habit?
4 Ways Families Can Develop the Habit of Courage
- Listen. A friend of mine has been studying courage for some time, and he shared with me the first step in attaining the habit of courage is listening. The practice of listening is a habit that will allow us to harness our courage. As a Christian, I believe that if we listened knowing the Holy Spirit is the One talking, then we would be much more courageous. Knowing we are being urged internally to move that mountain will give us the courage to put action towards it. If I only think that I’m dreaming of moving that mountain in my own mind, then I will think of the physical impossibilities of moving a mountain. But if I know it’s the Holy Spirit, I’m doing it and resting in Him.
- Take action. The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu is famous for saying that the journey of a thousand leagues starts with a single step. You have to take that first step! You have to find the courage to make that leap. You must go through some discomfort to get what you want in life, both for yourself and for your family. Taking that step is the best way to combat fear, and once you do it, you’ll find that your family will take note, follow your example, and begin to cultivate the habit of courage.
- Embrace your fear. Anxiety is completely normal, but you don’t have to be controlled by it! Of course, your feelings of anxiety are designed to warn of danger, but they can also indicate that you’re exactly where you need to be, about to experience an amazing breakthrough just by embracing the fear and moving forward. Pushing through the fear is often the only thing that separates those who succeed from those who fail.
- Celebrate. Once you embrace your fear and take action, you need to acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishment. Let those who encouraged you celebrate with you and be inspired. As family members continue to encourage, support, and celebrate each other, acting with courage starts to become a habit for everyone.
Perhaps the bigger question to be asked here is not how to develop the habit of courage, but why? Why is courage such a critical habit for families?
Here’s why: fear will always keep us from doing what we know we need to do. Exercising real courage today can be as simple as speaking the truth no matter what, or doing the right thing no matter what.
So many families crumble when faced with these basic challenges. Fear kicks in, and they choose paralysis, unable to take another step for fear of what might happen if they do.
Zig Ziglar famously said, that FEAR is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. We buy in to the false evidence instead of the truth when, due to fear, we don’t act on what we know is right.
It takes courage to teach your children right from wrong, to say no when they should, to help them guard against the teachings of television or video games. It takes courage for them to resist peer pressure and for us, as parents, to hold our children accountable for their actions.
We parents have to demonstrate courage for them. We have to live it out and walk the walk. Our actions will always speak much louder than our words.
More times than I can count, I’ve had to make the trip to school to stand up for what we as a family knew was right for our kids, only to find I was often the only parent who showed up! But it didn’t matter. My family knew I was there, and that encouraged them to act courageously.
My wife and I see acts of courage over and over in our kids, especially in the youngest, who has benefitted by seeing older siblings acting courageously. They’ve all learned as much from observation as from my teaching, if not more.
One of my favorite quotes by Winston Churchill is, “Failure is never fatal. Success is never final. It’s the courage to continue that counts.” And he lived by that wisdom in the face of overwhelming resistance.
Let him be an example for all of us to be courageous: not afraid to speak up, not afraid to parent our kids the way that we know is right, every time, and in every situation.
Question: In what ways does your family struggle to act courageously? How are you modeling courage to your children? You can share your thoughts by clicking here.