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The Courage to Be

Talitha Arnold

Be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord. - Psalm 27:14 (NRSV)

Sometimes I don’t want to be. Strong, that is.

Like the day after Christmas when, out of the blue, I had to put my dog down because a hidden tumor broke and flooded her chest cavity so she couldn’t breathe. As I listened to the vet tell me the diagnosis and the lack of options, I didn’t want to be strong. I didn’t want to take courage. I just wanted to hold my dog and bury my face in her fur.

I didn’t want to be strong that summer day when a beloved friend and colleague told me he’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He’d had some symptoms, but we thought he’d dodged the bullet because the tests all came back negative—until they didn't. The day he got the news, I didn’t want to be strong. I just wanted to have a magic wand that would take away that awful disease.

I imagine that most if not all of you who are reading this have had such days—or maybe such months or years. I also suspect that ninety-nine percent of the time, you’ve been very strong through very hard times. Most likely the composer of Psalm 27 had faced such times with strength and courage. But now, faced with adversaries and false witnesses “breathing out violence,” the psalmist is afraid and despairing.

Before the psalmist gets to the affirmation to “be strong,” they first have to be all those other human things: fearful, weak, needy. Perhaps we do, too. Perhaps then we can remember anew where our strength comes from.

Prayer You promise to be with us, O God. Help us to trust that promise and just be—whatever we are—with you.

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