Kirsten Panachyda

Writer and Speaker

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Tag: courage

Take courage

How do we make the firepit of our souls do what it is supposed to do so that we feel the warmth of God’s peace?
Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Dan came upon me carrying a box out to the garage. “What’s all that?” 

“I’m starting to reorganize the school room and this stuff is in the way.”

“Wait. Wait, wait, wait.” Dan took the box out of my hands. “Yesterday you wanted to throw out everything in the pantry.”

“We need to change things. Our environment is too cluttered, our diet is crap. We need routines and order.” I tugged on the box. 

Dan held on. “You can’t fix our crisis like this, you know. You’re just going make the rest of us go off the deep end.” He wisely carried the box back upstairs.

Our family was in a crisis, and I was afraid, and I was trying to fix it.

Just before Jesus prays for the disciples on His last night with them, He concludes His final teaching with these words:

“These things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) 

“Take Courage!” Jesus tells us. In other translations, the verse says, “Take Heart!”, “Be Brave!” or, “Be of Good Cheer!” Our oldest English translation, the Wyclif Bible from the 14th century, says “Trust ye!”

Tharseo

So what is this hard-to-translate Greek word John uses to convey the ideas of courage, cheer, bravery, heart, trust? Tharseo. This word is related to Thero or therme, which means heat, and Theros, which is harvest-time, summer. Tharseo means to be bolstered from being warmed up, a radiant warm confidence, or as the Greeks might have visualized it, a heart heated to readiness.

the Firepit

During dark days do you, like me, sometimes feel a deep chill of anxiety?

So where do we get the heat?

How do we make the firepit of our souls do what it is supposed to do so that we feel the warmth of God’s peace?

Think back to elementary school science. What do we need for fire?

We need fuel.

We need oxygen.

We need heat.

the Fuel

The logs, the wood, the fuel, are the promises of God.

We need to put our hands on Jesus’s promises and pull them close to our hearts. The promises of God are the fuel of the fire of courage. 

The logs, when they are burning, heat our hearts to readiness. And we have courage.

the Oxygen

But fuel never just sits stacked in the firepit giving off heat. It needs to be positioned so oxygen can flow around it. 

Our courage oxygen is the breath of the Holy Spirit. When we look to the Scriptures to find what God has promised us, we are absorbing the words that were breathed out by God. He breathes on His promises where we have brought them into our being to give life to them in our everyday. Sometimes, we can know the promises, but we also need to position them our lives so that the air can get to them.

the Heat

The fire still lacks one ingredient. Heat. What is going to spark the mix of fuel and oxygen to light the flame of courage? What do we need to supply to the promises of God that the Holy Spirit is enlivening?

We might think what we need to supply is extra effort, more trying. But God’s way is different.  

Surrender. He asks us to surrender all that worry, all that trying. Surrender to the reality of the circumstances. When we recognize and admit that we are freezing next to a firepit that is empty or unlit, we press into our need. And that surrender, enlivened by the breath of Holy Spirit, lights the fuel of God’s promises.

Can you trace fear and anxiety back to an empty or unlit firepit? 

When we need to be brave, we discover what we really believe.  Fuel the fire of courage with those promises.  Open heart and soul to the breath of the Spirit. Spark them to life with surrender. Keep courage burning to do what God has for each step. 

“These things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) 

Tharseo — take courage! Let your heart be warmed to readiness! The heat of God’s peace banishes the arctic blast of fear. Jesus has overcome. It is enough.

ClimbIng

Hiking is my newest adventure. Over the years, I have set physical challenges for myself. This is partly for health, partly for fun, but also an act of gratitude. My body is capable of stepping and clambering and climbing, and I am so thankful. I honor it when I use it, even slow and clumsy. I honor the God who created me. And the more I hike, the more sure my footing becomes, the more my breathing evens out, the more I stride with confidence and joy.

Little Rock Pond, Appalachian Trail, Vermont

As a kid I was an avid competitive swimmer. “Athlete” was a major component of my identity. But between the ages of 12 and 15, this was stripped away, first by rheumatoid arthritis and then by severe Crohns disease, which eventually required drastic surgery. My later teens and early twenties were marked by the sense that I was a half-invalid and that debilitating illness could return any time. I feared anything that caused physical discomfort. My joints would still flare up with hot inflammation from fatigue or overuse. I thought this was how my life would be — “fragile” was my new identity.

But then I had a baby. And I was awed at what this body that I kind of despised could do. I noticed afterward that I felt healthier. Flare-ups came less often and less severely. I walked, one mile at a time, then two, then three. I climbed a (small) mountain in the Adirondacks. I had another baby, after a difficult pregnancy. A year after my second son was born, I ran —ran — a 5K. The next year I did a triathlon, a sport I continued for 10 years. When my kids learned how to downhill ski, I did too. What a joy it was to rediscover the athlete who had been waiting in the recesses of my identity. 

I’ve never been particularly fast or skillful at any of these things, not like I was as a swimmer. When I finished in the top half of the field, I felt like I’d won. If I made it down the hill without stopping or falling, I felt like a champion. Sometimes I have been put out of commission for a couple weeks because of a flare-up. Recently I posted a picture of myself hiking a segment of the Appalachian Trail, the first time I have set foot on it. I’m pretty sure I am not capable of thru-hiking the AT, but to do segments of it is a triumph.

Okay, so what? Nice story, but so what?

The way of the sluggard is as a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway.” (Proverbs 15:19)

What I’ve learned with my body applies to my spiritual life too. The word “sluggard” feels a bit harsh, especially for someone held back by illness. In my case, I had to face the fact that sometimes I cited illness to myself when really fear was the problem.  Fear could make me a sluggard, unwilling to push forward and put in the work. When I was doing triathlons, I made myself push past the fear so that I could actually listen to my body. Eventually, I found the limit when I trained for and completed a half-Ironman. I was proud of myself that I had finished, but acknowledged that the distance had been too much for my body, and backed off. But if I had listened to fear instead of my body, I would never have known that it was capable of the shorter distance races.

When my emotions and faith were tested in the fire of crisis with my son’s bipolar disorder, the same principles applied. I was capable of so much more strength, trust in God, and ability to fight than I ever dreamed. I also learned where my limit was, and when I needed to take action, in the form of counseling and medical intervention, to keep myself from breaking down. If I had listened to fear to determine my responses, I would never have found out how abundantly equipped I was in Christ. 

When the faithfulness required for caregiving looms like a mountain over us, it can seem easier not to climb. When the trail of practicing trust in God is a thicket in front of us, it feels safer not to venture in. If we follow the way of the sluggard, and stay unmoving at the foot of the climb or the edge of the thicket, the hedge of thorns grows around us, making everything harder, hurting us. The way of the sluggard, not moving, not putting in the monumental effort, is oh, so enticing. But practicing faithfulness begets more faithfulness. The path of the upright, the habits of work and trust, gets easier. This path leads us where we want to go.

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