We’re all afraid of something. It may be something big, or it might be something small. Often, it’s both.
Our fears come in all shapes and sizes.
- Fear of failure
- Fear of criticism
- Fear of heights
- Fear of bats
- Fear of the dark
One of my greatest fears is speaking in public. Take my books, stop airing Doctor Who, just don’t make me present a speech to people. Enter the irony. I’m pursuing a Communications degree. Alas, to my chagrin—and the questioning of my sanity—it requires a Public Speaking course.
*cue the creepy, haunted house music*
I dutifully started two weeks ago and said public speaking things (nassstty thingses, preciousss) is proving my fear to be accurate. I pretty much loathe it, but that’s not the point.
That’s the thing about fear. It incites a strong reaction. Either you can wither under the feeling like a rose in the Sahara, or you can press forward, daunted but undeterred—like Frodo and Sam on their way to Mount Doom.
What’s the opposite of fear?
I Googled the definition of courage and found this (which gets at the heart of the point I’m trying to make more than the definition I found on marriam-webster.com):
- The ability to do something that frightens one.
- Strength in the face of pain or grief.
Fear and Courage in Stories
Getting back to Frodo and Sam, one of the beautiful things about stories is the presence of fear. But more than that, the presence of courage in the face of fear. Those are the stories we remember, the ones we laugh at and cry over, and that live in our memories. Those are the stories that stir a sense of wonder and inspiration deep within our souls.
After all, in any good tale, we can’t help but become attached to and invested in the lives of the characters. It’s part of what makes a story work. The characters step off the page and transform into living, breathing people.
The fears they face, the trials that assail them, become every bit as real as the fears and trials we deal with on a regular basis.
Fantasy, in particular, presents this contrast of courage in the face of fear. A few examples:
- Frodo undertaking the quest to destroy the ring
- Peter and Edmund leading the Narnians against the White Witch
- Harry facing Voldemort
What makes these moments stab into our hearts? We see the characters go toe-to-toe against the nightmares, the things in life they most dread…and ultimately conquer.
Speaking for myself, that always encouraged me. If Sam and Frodo can trek across Mordor, surely I can take on this horrible test I despise.
We find this realization at the intersection of story and reality, and suddenly we’re not alone. We’ve seen the fire-breathing dragon named Fear rear its ugly head, and we’ve seen it come crashing down, neck severed by the honed blade of Courage.
Take Heart, Be Courageous
At the end of the day, these truths and the stories expressing them point back to their source, found in the greatest story of all, where the greatest Truth shines forth like a beacon into a fearful world.
As Romans 8:31 (ESV) says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Fantastical stories reflect this truth in moving, memorable ways.
One of the most reassuring examples is found in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. They’ve sailed far toward the east, encountering dangers and facing the unknown. One such confrontation is the Dark Island, where nightmares come alive.
During this terrifying process, an albatross appears and we find this quiet reassurance (emphasis mine):
But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, “Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.
A small yet profound comfort.
Courage. It’s not the absence of fear, it’s action despite that fear.
Time and again, this plays out in stories. Characters face their fears and accomplish amazing things. Sometimes that amazing thing is simply surviving. Or resisting temptation. Or pushing through when they want to give up.
Acts of courage can be as large as an army or as small as a hobbit. Ultimately, size isn’t important. The point these stories make, and that we should remember, is that we can stand up to our fears and watch them crumble.
Those public speaking woes can be overcome.
That fear of failure can be turned around, used as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Why? Because we have the ultimate Conqueror on our side.
Whatever fear or trial you’re facing this week, remember two hobbits trekking to Mordor. Remember that with fear comes the chance to be courageous.
And most of all, remember that soft voice whispering, “Courage, dear heart.”
What stories of courage have inspired you?