Stressful Weeks Call for Courageous Moments
We were about 1,800 miles from home, and the transmission was dead. We’d had trouble with it at the last rest area, but I’d been able to limp us along to the next small town, Sidney, Nebraska, but there was no more limping, even. We were stuck, hundreds of miles from the nearest person we knew. With two kids in the back seat, ages 8 and 11, the thought entered my head, “This could turn really bad. It doesn’t have to, though. It all depends on the next word that comes out of my mouth. And right now I’d better choose faith and hope.”
I was responsible. It was up to me. I could have exploded in anger or shrunk into worry. In that moment, for the sake of my family, I had to exercise real moral courage.
Moral courage isn’t always about the big decisions. Sometimes it’s mere moments that take us by surprise. On Sunday morning my wife and I were settling down for our church’s online worship service, when suddenly I felt a hot blast of angry resentment for not being able actually to be with people.
It was a very small thing, compared to, say, doctors and nurses putting their lives on the line to care for coronavirus patients. I’m not in their situation, so I won’t presume to speak of what that’s like. I’m just thankful for the depth of courage they’re displaying.
Still for me it was an unexpected moment of moral choice: I could give in and set myself on a trajectory toward bitterness, or I could choose to shift my focus toward the positive, something to be thankful for.
Setting the Right Trajectory
Those moments are likely to multiply. The course we set ourselves in today’s momentary decisions may well determine where we end up weeks or months from now. And it isn’t getting any easier. My patience is wearing thinner by the day. I’m getting more antsy to get out and do something totally outrageous, like having a cup of coffee with a friend. The longer this lasts, the more I expect it will test my character.
Moments really matter, but so does our day-by-day, week-by-week heart preparation. Because resentment and joy happen in very different ways. Joy requires cultivation over time, by letting our minds dwell on the big picture, especially God’s eternal goodness. Resentment, in contrast, is often over small things, and it attacks us by surprise, as it did for me Sunday morning.
Small things can multiply, though. Moments matter. I took Sunday morning’s moment of bitterness as a warning. “This could turn really bad. It doesn’t have to, though. It depends on the next word that comes out of my mouth. And right now I’d better choose faith and hope.”
Small, momentary decisions can really affect larger outcomes. They’re not the whole story. There’ll be sickness, loss, economic struggles for many of us. Still, moments matter. It’s about the trajectory.
Trusting God for the Right Outcome
Back to Sidney, Nebraska. By God’s grace, I said the right thing in that crucial moment: “Okay, family, let’s trust God with this.” We ended up spending four or five days there, waiting out a weekend and then the delivery and installation of a new transmission. An after-market warranty paid not only for the minivan’s repair, but even our food and lodging. We rented a car — the man did the paperwork with pencil and paper — which gave us wheels to go see a rodeo in town. Our hotel was just a short walk from one of the most interesting stores in the country, the original, flagship store of the Cabela’s outfitter chain.
A few years later when we were planning a family vacation, we asked the kids, “What’s been your favorite vacation so far?” Our son said, “Sidney.”
No one is going to look back on this pandemic and call it their favorite vacation. That’s not the point. The point is, for the sake of ourselves and our families, we need to be on guard for attacks of bitterness, hopelessness, or worry. Reality on the ground might seem to justify our feeling that way. The larger reality, though, is that God is still in charge, and He’s still good.
We would all do well to keep that in mind, day by day, week by week. Whatever comes out of this for each of us, it’ll be a lot better for us all if we exercise moral courage by trusting Him, thanking Him, and cultivating joy, so we can be ready when those hard moments hit — which they will.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream, and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ and Critical Conversations: A Christian Parent’s Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens, and the lead editor of True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism.