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“Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
by Jennifer Lucking
My daughter is a complete mini-me. Her features resemble mine when I was a child, to the extent that once my husband actually confused a baby picture of me for my daughter. In ways that are both positive and negative, her personality and traits resemble mine as well. Most prominently, she is fiercely impatient. If she cannot get something right on the first try, she melts into an angry fit. At two and a half years old she is constantly saying new phrases. Her latest is sobbing “I can’t do it!” when she tries desperately to do something that is difficult–balancing one block upon another, climbing a high ladder on the playground, buckling the straps on her booster seat. It breaks my heart every time to hear her say this; the frustration in her tone competes with tones of disappointment, of defeat.
“I can’t do it!” she cries. A phrase that I’ve sobbed or thought a million times myself.
The first time I remember someone questioning my ability to do something was when I was ten years old. I wanted to profess my faith publicly in my home church. Being younger than when people usually did this in my church, the congregation’s Elders had questions about whether they would allow me to do so. (They did, in fact, but only after one Elder asked me “Jennifer, do you love the Lord?” I responded “Yes” and he said “That’s all I need to know.”)
My first memory of being questioned for my abilities because of my gender was also in a church context. After attending a leadership conference, I felt so encouraged and empowered! That is, until I was confronted by someone I considered prominent within the church who questioned my ability to be a leader because I am a female. While previously encouraged and empowered, I was left feeling deflated.
A friend of mine tweeted a couple of weeks ago “Coincidentally, the only people who have ever tried to stop me from doing anything because I’m female are… the church.” It stopped me in my tracks. Sadly, I realized this to be true in my own life, too.
In hindsight, the confrontation I had following the leadership conference was sort of an “iron sharpening iron” moment for me. I consider this experience pivotal in my journey, strengthening me through challenge. But after this particular experience, it took me a while to rebuild my confidence. It’s a history of discouragement that I am still overcoming. I have a strong voice, yet I still find myself timid when it comes to offering suggestions or opinions, especially within the context of church-related meetings. I am working on becoming bolder. In the New Revised Standard Version of Joshua 1, the statement “be strong and courageous” is stated four times (with one of those times reading “be strong and very courageous”).
This past week, I was part of meetings with the Regional Synod of Canada of the Reformed Church in America. We spent more than half a day sharing about ourselves and our personal stories. Many of our stories centred on moments of triumph and success, but many also centred on experiences of trauma and difficulty. Through each of our stories, however, it was so evident that God uses moments of profound sadness and struggle to call us to be strong, brave, and courageous. Someone reminded us that courage is not the absence of fear, but courage is being strong in the face of fear.
God tells us to be strong and (very) courageous in what he has called us to do. We know that through God, we can do all things (Philippians 4:13). We know that through God’s mighty power at work within us, “we can accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). But how are we acting towards each other in accordance to this? How are we empowering others to do that which they have been called by God? Or maybe we need to ask ourselves, what are we doing or saying that prevents people from being strong and courageous in their lives and calling?
Sometimes it is not so much about “doing” as it is about “trying.” Sometimes we need to scrounge up courage not just to do or complete something, but just to try.
Last week, my daughter was trying to drink the leftover milk from her bowl of Cheerios. As she tried, the milk went up her nose. In defeat and frustration, she cried “I can’t do it!” I came alongside her, comforted her (I’ve had drinks up my nose once or twice and know it’s not pleasant), and encouraged her, “Try again, honey. Just try again. You can do it. I know you can.” I left the room for a moment and returned to her holding an empty bowl. She looked so proud of herself. I half expected her to say “I did it!” She didn’t. Instead, she exclaimed triumphantly “I tried it! Yay!”
Jennifer Lucking serves as a Mission Co-Worker with the Reformed Church in America’s Global Mission in partnership with the Regional Synod of Canada. In her role as Coordinator of Human Trafficking Outreach, she engages congregations, groups, and individuals to equip and mobilize them in channeling their concerns for modern day slavery, human trafficking, and commercial sexual exploitation. She lives in the “Great White North,” in southern Ontario with her husband, daughter, and a smattering of pets.