(Putting up the Advent wreath last Sunday morning)
Me: Okay, so now that we have the wreath set up, let's add the candles. There are four candles. Do you remember what each candle stands for?
Me: So. we talked about these last year, I'll give you a hint, the first one is hope. What are some of the others?
8 yo: Happiness?
Me: No, but good idea. The next one is peace, and then joy. Hope, peace, joy and.....?
5 yo: Courage!
Me: Well I do like that, but it's something else.
5 yo: Loving!
Me: Yes, it's love. But loving is a good way to say it, too.
Advent courage! I think my 5 year old might be on to something. Hope, peace, joy and love are delightful ideals, but every one of them takes courage to carry out. Maybe that's why Maya Angelou said that courage is the most important virtue, because you can't practice any of the others without it.
Courage is sometimes equated with bravery (think the Cowardly Lion of Oz), though Merriam-Webster's online dictionary says it's the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous. I tend to think of courage as acting despite your fears. I'm not courageous if I conquer my fears and blaze on ahead -- to me it's more about doing the hard thing even when my knees are knocking.
Sometimes we think of courage as the stuff of big, dramatic acts: saving someone from drowning, showing bravery in a war zone, or grabbing a child who wandered in front of a speeding car. These are certainly courageous acts, but I think Advent courage might be a little more subtle, but no less important.
What does it mean to practice hope, peace, joy and love right now? I mean really practice them? These all take immense courage in a time of pandemic and partisanship. What if we really had hope that justice will prevail in situations where there is none? What if we acted for peace, which might mean taking an unpopular stance? What if we insisted on practicing joy, even when we're hurting? What if we choose to love, even those who are different and seem difficult?
When I was in my early twenties, I moved across the country, traveled in developing countries that my mom deemed "too dangerous" (she was maybe right) and entered graduate school with nowhere near enough money in the bank. I thought these all took courage.
You know what seems harder now? Staying hopeful and positive for my kids when I'm scared of COVID. Choosing not to respond to unkind comments on social media. Speaking up when someone makes a racist comment. Loving my children by cleaning up vomit, nursing in the middle of the night, and listening to 47 tedious stories about LEGO Star Wars. I am not always good at all of these things but they all take courage, or at least some kind of stamina, and on the days that I can find it, I'm practicing just a bit of hope, peace, joy and love.
I read in a parenting book that when your kid whines, "I can't do it!" you can respond by saying, "You can do hard things." Extra points if you remind them of other hard things they have already done. Maybe that's something we can say to ourselves too, and not just our children.
Advent courage to you, this season, dear reader. Maybe it will help you frame the ways you practice hope, peace, joy and love.