I first read To Kill A Mockingbird around age thirteen.
When Atticus Finch told his son Jem that courage was something more than a man with a gun in his hand, my adolescent self thought one thing: that’s very optimistic.
The classic quote from To Kill a Mockingbird reads, “Courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
With bad face acne and damaging shards of tween drama taking up all available oxygen in my young life, I found that quote…riveting.
I knew what to do when you know you’re licked. Falsify. A smile, a laugh, an entire life. Pretend this is…good. Fine. It’s life! Acquiesce to get by or at the very least, pretend to fit in.
Pretend that you’re not as licked as you think.
Pretending has its benefits. Eyes closed and fake-it-til-you-make-it can be just the tide that carries us through tough times. We need tools for treading water at critical junctures.
But. Pretending is not beginning.
The Israelites found this out the hard way. After forty years in the wilderness, when God was debriefing them on their new land, the one that the Lord their God would care for, He insisted they remember who got them out of their previously confusing and arduous place.
Who led them all the way these forty years in the wilderness.
Who led them.
All. The. Way.
That is a main difference between pretending and beginning.
Beginning believes “all the way” is even a thing.
On the contrary, pretending works up a sweat just standing still. Pretending needs ever new sleights of hand. Pretending is disillusioning. Pretending makes “all the way” sound like a joke.
But there they were, those Israelites.
What was once relentless and unchanging was… about to change.
God had been with them through one thing all the way over to starting a brand new thing. A promised land. One not built for sissies.
And He insisted the Israelites face the facts presented before them. He was asking, in His way, do you know Me? All the way?
All the way to heaven, okay, but what about all the way through the basic bits of everyday life, like tween acne and angst and absolute certainty that no matter which way we juke then jive, things. Will. Not. Get. Better.
Not really. Not in ways that count.
Sorry, Atticus. Maybe courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. But seeing it through no matter what? When all hope looks lost?
That kind of courage is fleeting. Inordinately expensive. A currency we do not even understand. Who has that kind of optimism anyway?
In light of the Israelites’ lack of hope – in light of our own reasonable, proven, statistically sound, rational lack of hope – there is a God hopes on, on our behalf.
And would like to strengthen us to try the same.
“Observe therefore…so you may have strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, and so that you may live long in the land…flowing with milk and honey.” (Deut 11:8)
God’s antidote for the Israelites’ predilection for all-hope-is-lost?
“Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God; his majesty…”
Not your children. You.
“His mighty hand, his outstretched arm; the signs he performed and the things he did…as they were pursuing you…”
Pursuit. Not just anybody’s enemies. Your enemies.
“It was not your children who saw what he did for you….”
“But, it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the Lord has done.”
That is not pixie dust or a leprechaun or a mantra or a tiny little sheet pulled out of a tiny little cookie. That is not a wish.
That is remembering.
God needed the Israelites to dispossess the land of its nations which were larger and stronger than them. God was willing to do the driving out, but the Israelites had to…hope in Him. Walk forth with Him. Daringly believe in Him.
Remembering gives hope something irrefutable.
In the case of the Israelites, they could not un-see what they had seen. Personally.
In the case of us? The Author of the Bible promises the same – a relationship with a God who unapologetically does not tell all, but does want us to see His very personal touch on our lives. He admits the harsh reality of circumstances and likewise affectionately, persistently, beckons us to…begin anyway.
What will that look like?
We often do not know.
“Not knowing” is not always the precursor to bad news that we think it is. After all, God gave the Israelites manna their fathers had never seen before.
However, “not knowing” stinks. It is scary. It seems easier to ward it off with pretense and pretending rather than testing hope all the way over to actually stepping into the abyss.
Courage is when you begin anyway.
Begin. One foot in front of the other. To what end?
Try Him, and we’re about to find out.
He wishes we would.