I am a coward.
This isn’t something I say lightly or mean superficially. Over the past several days I’ve been reflecting on this truth of who I’ve become, how I’ve gotten to this point and how to go about repenting.
When I say I’m a coward, I mean it. It’s not that I have panic-attacks or some psychological issue that can be treated with therapy or medication. I have a lack of confidence that is nothing less than cowardice that comes from a severely damaged faith.
The roots may be found in my childhood, growing up in rural Missouri. Though I had casual friendships in high school, I didn’t really trust anyone and I generally kept to myself. Really, I only started getting out of the house after I dedicated my life to Christ at 17. I started to live as I found courage in the power of God and the mission of His kingdom.
Before I had been shy of socializing, but also disinterested in academic achievement. I’ve always said my problem was a lack of motivation, something I found in Christ, but the underlying problem was fearful uncertainty. Why do schoolwork to get into college and get some job I’ll do until I’m dead? There was a fear of failure, yes, but also of success. My low self-esteem led me to set higher expectations for what was expected in school assignments than were realistic, but at the same time I dreaded pulling ahead of the pack and being singled out.
Trusting Christ I began to do my schoolwork, to Gehenna with the consequences. I was a point or so behind due to my prior inaction and wouldn’t have graduated, except that my new found determination as a believer drove me to seek a way and carry it through. Finishing high school credits via correspondence, I not only surprised my parents by being on the honor roll the last three semesters of high school, I also graduated with my class.
A teenager with no future and no expectations became a young man headed to college and into ministry. A few years later I discovered my vocation with Brazilian missions.
My time at Harding University sucked something out of my soul. On the one hand, I received pretty decent ministry training from capable men. On the other, much of what I was learning came from a very narrow, Church of Christ perspective that impacted me more deeply than I realized. This set me up for trouble, and I only aggravated it by forming a relationship with a Christian woman in Brazil that distracted me from my coursework, church ministry and personal relationships at the university. When that woman dumped me after several months of engagement in favor of a mission intern, my morale was devastated.
Still, I soon met a wonderful and faithful woman, and life rolled on. We had a good ministry in Brazil, but it was cut short by lack of funds and the long delays in the Brazilian government getting me the necessary residency documents. It was a setback, but we told ourselves that we’d return to Brazil better prepared after a brief stay in the States.
The final and crushing blow came in New Mexico. Unwittingly set up for failure at Sunrise Christian Church, I staked my strength and identity on turning that church around. Between my father’s death and the end of my ministry with Sunrise in 2005, my ability to trust God or others seemed destroyed. Perhaps it was and I’m only now beginning to reclaim it.
And that’s how I became a coward. Yes, I am a coward. I have to confess it to deal with it.
In the Wizard of Oz there’s a cowardly lion. We’ve become so accustomed to the cultural icon that perhaps we’ve forgotten how silly the thought was meant to be. A “cowardly” lion? What good is a “cowardly” lion? Not much. I find that I’m that lion.
Rather than have a healthy and perhaps healing argument with my wife, I try to keep her content.
Rather than say what I believe directly, I beat around the bush.
Rather than identify with those with whom I find the greatest affinity, I attend church where Harding faculty would feel at home (except for the language barrier).
The man who writes this blog is a shadow of his former self, and that person wasn’t that strong to begin with. This cowardice consumes me, keeps me from expressing fully what I believe and causes me to avoid debates and back off when challenged.
What would courage look like? I’m going to have to make a list and work this out in my “off-line” journal, wrestling with the issue in serious prayer. In essence, though, here are some clues:
Being shunned, I would find companionship in my Savior.
Succeeding, I would find humility in the Passion.
Failing, I would find strength in the Resurrection.
Living, I would find joy in the journey, and courage in Christ.