My wife and I are writing 30 before 30 lists. Some are practical (learn car maintenance), some are big goals which will require a crazy amount of hard work (a sub 2 hour half marathon), some are things I’ve wanted to do for years (LeJog), and some are, well, deeply personal. One has come out of the last two weeks of experimenting with duty: learn true courage.
We’ve all heard the quote – a quick search reveals many original speakers, suggesting no-body actually knows who said it first – that “courage isn’t the absence of fear but triumph over it.” My experience of the last two weeks of doing what I ought has shown me that it isn’t just fear that stops us doing things. Malaise, apathy, discouragement, laziness, forgetfulness and any number of other vices stop us doing what we need to do. Courage is overcoming these vices. During week 1 I learnt a little of what it is like to do so.
In week 2, I forgot those lessons and what I felt like doing was more prominent in my decision making. In sum, it was a terrible week. Without going into details, because that would not be fair on the relevant parties, this week I have caused untold damage and hurt because I did not do what I ought, and I don’t mean dishes. I myself am still healing, and it will take time – for the parties to forgive me too. Friends, I would like to warn you about the dangers of following your desires from my own story of this week, but I am not ready to talk about it. Let’s instead look at the good that can come from doing the right thing, but first a warning from CS Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew.
Digory has been sent to a distant place to pick an apple to bring it back to Narnia, which will protect the land from the witch. He also knows an apple from the tree will heal his ailing mother.
Digory walked straight to the tree, picked an apple, and put it in the breast of his Norfolk jacket. But he couldn’t help looking at it and smelling it before he put it away.
It would have been better if he had not. A terrible thirst and hunger came over him and a longing to taste that fruit.
We later learn what would have happened if Digory had taken another apple for his ill mother. Aslan is blunt:
It would have healed her; but not to your joy or hers. The day would have come when both you and she would have looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness.
We learn here that we must quell even the smallest desire for evil before they grow. And that even our desire for good things (Digory just wanted his mum to be healed) can be out of whack. We must learn to do what right for the right reasons and in the right manner, in the right time. Right?
I learnt over the past two weeks that there are some good reasons to do the right thing no matter what, namely:
The peaceful life that comes from not harming yourself or others.
The accomplishing of greater tasks. This is the theory of bed making, which a colleague and I continually refer to, asking each-other if we’ve made our beds that day!
The good feelings that can come from doing things anyway (9.5 mile run home from work on a Monday, in the dark, for the WIN!).
But these pale in significance to two reasons I discovered for both doing the right things and not doing the wrong things despite our feelings (or, as I now call it, abstaining from wrong and doing right to spite my feelings).
not committing some sins can lead to other sins coming to the fore
This may sound counter-intuitive. Why would I want other sins coming forward? Well, because it means I can deal with them. For instance, I thought I had dealt with anger. I thought I had learnt how to handle annoyances so they don’t become anger, especially when driving. Turns out, I have some things to learn about it. Day 1 of my experiment, I was doing great. I had got up early, made the bed, gone for a 5k run, done the dishes, read some bible and prayed, and was doing an errand I had been putting off – returning an item to TKMaxx, which meant leaving for work early. I left later than planned, but still with time. No worries. All good. Zen. Until some jerk in a lorry decided to tailgate me, trying to push me over the speed limit, before undertaking me (above the speed limit) on the slip road I was about to take! It was a busy road, and there were no gaps to take. Thankfully I remembered that the slip road has two lanes, or I literally would have been on the road to Glasgow, rather than Edinburgh (imagine that phone call to the boss!). I was livid. But I recognised this and was able to stop it before it took over and dominated the rest of the day, as it would have done a few years ago. I have no doubt that if I hadn’t done the right things earlier and so been otherwise peaceful, my mind would have been muddied and unable to see this happening.
Doing what is right leads to renewed or continued desire and vigour for the things of God
During week 1 of the experiment, I forced my phone out of my hand during my morning coffee. I read through the Valley of Vision, going through prayers for the morning. More often than not the act of praying led to reading the bible. Honestly, I hadn’t had a week like that in far too long. It isn’t that those things save me, but it forces me to give up my evil passions, partly because I see them for what they are and partly because I see God for who He is. These things struck home that week:
“when we are tempted to wander, hedge up our way, excite in us an abhorrence of sin”
“Keep our hearts from straying after forbidden fruit.”
“Give us closer abiding in Jesus that we may bring forth more fruit, have a deeper sense of our obligations to him, that will may surrender all, have a fuller joy, that we may serve him completely.”
Through praying and reading God instructs me on a better way of living, teaches me who he is which makes me want to do his bidding. Again from the Valley of Vision:
Most high God,
The universe with all its myriad creatures is thine,
made by thy word, upheld by thy power, governed by thy will.
But thou art also the Father of Mercies;
the God of all grace,
the bestower of all comfort,
the protector of the saved.
Thou hast been mindful of us,
hast visited us, preserved us,
given us a goodly heritage-
the Holy Scriptures,
the joyful gospel,
the saviour of souls.”
To know such a God breeds the desire to do right. And doing right helps keep that desire alive in ways I can’t yet explain. But that’s my testimony from the last two weeks!
This generation doesn’t like the idea of duty. I myself am scared of the word so often. But if these last two weeks have showed me anything it’s that doing the dutiful thing regardless of what we feel can lead to delight. So in future I will be doing my darndest to do all that is required of me, day in, day out. Of course, I will fail. But I believe it is imperative to do all I can to be courageous and not give in to my vices. To let feelings float till I know whether they will do harm or good, and instead do the dutiful deed.
Over to you. What do you feel and think about duty? Do you have a sense of duty toward God or others? Do you think our obedience to God should be tied to our feelings or a sense of duty, or a middle ground?
In practical terms, are there any duties you are putting off? What small things around the house or at work can you do right now?