The 5 Marks of a Courageous Life

Aug 14, 2012

Hairy spiders scare me. As do nightmares, difficult conversations, and old cheese.

For my husband’s birthday, I bought him a gift certificate to go skydiving, something he’s long wanted to do. He asked me why I didn’t buy one for myself at the same time. So, you know, we could do it together.

I answered a quickly, firm:

Because someone needs to document and photograph this monumental event. Of course.


Jumping from an airplane is more terrifying than a nightmare in which I eat a block of old cheese crawling with spiders during the middle of a difficult conversation. The truth is I’m not very brave. I’d choose safety over risk almost every time. And I’d much rather watch my husband and his plane from the vantage point of the ground.

I want to be a person of courage, try to will myself into it and make myself do courageous things. I want to be someone who lives with boldness, even when it’s difficult or uncomfortable.

Even when it costs.

But courage is more than jumping from a plane and eating bad dairy. It’s living with resolve, evidenced by these marks on my—your—life:

  1. Conviction: We love to be liked, popular, approved. And we certainly don’t have a problem doing what’s right and noble when accompanied by the cheer of fans. But what about conviction when absent applause? When your teenager threatens to run and your boss threatens to cheat? Or when a conversation with a friend slides toward gossip and criticism? Courage stands even if a relationship is lost in the process.
  2. Determination: Quitting is far easier than daring to live. This is why our foster care system and divorce court bulge with our discards. We lay down our responsibilities, loves and dreams too easy. But courage chooses engagement over safety, to love when it may not be returned, to pray when the calendar is full, to dream when it appears impossible. It’s not about being a doormat, but choosing to stand at the door until God himself shuts it.
  3. Compassion: It’s oh-so-easy to ignore the cries outside our fences and walls, isn’t it? We have more than enough to deal with at home, more than enough difficulty to manage and grief to bandage. But courage moves. Not only to feel another’s pain, but to act on behalf of it. It’s intentionally seeing what’s broken and doing something about it, even when the seeing and doing breaks us in the process.
  4. Forgiveness: Choosing to forgive is perhaps the most difficult mark of courage. It’s erasing the score, even when the other person doesn’t know they’re losing. Forgiveness is a daily jump out the airplane, risky because it’s absent the weight of the familiar wound and grudge. It’s a free-fall. But forgiveness is brave. Truly brave.
  5. Humility: We may be marked by conviction, determination, compassion and forgiveness. But wearing those marks like badges, all shiny and showing off, tarnishes true courage. Humility knows grace covers all. We’re determined because we’ve been pursued. We forgive because we’ve been covered. We stand because we’ve been secured. Humility simply follows the One leading, and knows any courage we muster was first sparked by His flame.

I may or may not skydive. I will certainly do my best to avoid hairy insects and bad cheese. But may the One who daily pursues, covers, secures and forgives me make me (and you), truly, courageous. 

Which one of these 5 marks of courage would you most like to display?


  1. Heather Day Gilbert

    Wow, very thoughtful post! I’m the spouse who’d like to go skydiving while my hubby looks on!

    And love the idea of conviction. It’s so hard to believe what we know to be true in the face of overwhelming criticism. I’m often reminded of the prophets and what a heavy burden they carried–knowing the truth, speaking it to their people, then watching the people reject it. As authors, I think we have to do that, as well. And we can wrap our truths in stories and in love (even as Nathan did with David).

  2. Jon Stallings

    I agree with Heather, Conviction is a big one. One so need leadership (and need to be leaders ourselves) who will make the right decisions despite the personal fall out.

  3. Alizabeth Rasmussen

    Which ONE of the five would I most like to display? I’d like more of all of them, please. 🙂

    Such truth in these words. I’ve never considered myself “adventurous,” and yet I recognize that cultivating a relationship with God means we’re called to be adventurous in different ways. To push ourselves and to find peace outside the comfort zone so that we can become who He dreamed us to be. It ALL takes courage, and I think it’s important to give ourselves credit, even while working to develop the qualities you’ve shared here.

    Thank you for another insightful post!

    • Michele

      Just to live each day takes courage, doesn’t it?

  4. Bruce Welton


    I think about this topic a lot, so kudos to you for writing this post that caught my eye.

    I think I have to agree with the others who highlighted that conviction plays such a big part in courage. To have conviction is to be guided by an inner assent to some truth, and to grab and to hold on to anything in this world as truth seems require a lot from many people. To live sticking by your beliefs and confidences despite the countervailing winds of public opinion and cultural suggestion requires incredible fortitude and a willingness to appear in the wrong, despite if what you are doing or saying or pursuing is right to you.

    It’s no surprise that words linked to courage are generally associated with the will. Since courage comes etymologically from the word for “heart”, and the heart is the traditional home for human will, we are reminded that courage is less about what goes on inside a person, but rather about what they say and do in the world. Courage is a product of decision-making, and is ratified by action. Aptly summarized, “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

    Thanks for your post.


    • Michele

      Great Proverb, Bruce. Thanks.

  5. Brent Dumler

    Mostly, I long after #3…compassion. Compassion like Jesus had just moments after receiving word of John’s beheading. Recently, however, God tested me in the ‘determination’ and ‘forgiveness’ fields. I blogged about it back in May. Powerful moment in approaching a former Senior Pastor and offering forgiveness. Long story short, it was not received, but grew me tremendously in the area of doing extremely difficult things regarding people and confrontation.
    Great post, Michele.

    • Michele

      Brave, Brent. Approaching that former Sr. Pastor, allowing him to refuse your sincere attempt to connect, that’s bold grace. Forgiveness is much more about our obedience than their response. I’m in the middle of learning this, too.

  6. Bill Blankschaen

    Which would I like to display? Well, all of them actually. This one hits pretty close to home for me, Michelle. Rather than try to tell it all here, I’ll just reluctantly add a link to my post at Jeff Goins’ site because I couldn’t fit it here.

    Thanks for the post, Michelle. Any good run-ins with bags of cheese puffs of late?

    • Michele

      Wow, Bill. What a courageous step of faith. Thanks for sharing your story!

  7. Denise

    Loved this post Michele….absolutely wonderful!
    My journey began with determination. Without that I would never have accomplished the rest.

    It’s been a 12 year journey to arrive at forgiving my mom recently. She and I just went through an amazing week together that brought considerable healing for us both. Blogging on that series turned out to be my most popular so far. Seems forgiveness is something we all want to have and do, but it is so so so hard.

    • Michele

      Forgiveness is a tough topic for all of us. Often we have the desire but not the will. What finally moved you forward to do something about it?

  8. Abigail Rogers

    Thank you for saying what you did about forgiveness. That’s definitely one of the marks of courage that I am struggling with. It’s strange how such a horrible burden can become so comfortable…but I need to jump out of this plane because it’s going to crash and burn.

  9. Judy

    A wonderful article, please write more don’t stop.

    • Michele

      Thank you, Judy.

  10. Adam Smith

    I’d like to display humility the most. It all starts there. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Michele

      I’m with you, Adam. That’s where it starts.

  11. Kevin

    Amazing post. Something I needed to hear. Some of the things I never associated with courage but it’s true. I think the characteristic I’d most like to display is conviction. Sometimes it’s hard for me to risk losing relationships, but thar’s the risk of conviction indeed.



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