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Courage in the In-Between

June 17, 2024

Kelly Keller

Be strong, and let your heart be courageous, all you who put your hope in the Lord. – Psalm 31:24 (ESV)

When our children were young, we used to remind them that angels were scary.

What is the first thing that happens when an angel shows up in the Bible? People usually hit the ground, facedown. John even started to worship an angel, prompting the heavenly messenger to help him up. (Rev. 22:8, ESV) From the descriptions we read in the Bible, it would seem that the people visited had good reason to be afraid. Far from Raphael’s adorable chubby cherubs, angels are described as shocking creatures. 

In turn, the angels respond with the most common command given in the Bible: “fear not.” Throughout the whole of Scripture, this phrase is said by angels, by God the Father, and by Christ Jesus. Some people say that it’s there 365 times, once for each day of the year. 

The silent conclusion here? Humans are fearful. We need to be told.

One of the most fearful places is the place in between.

The road, rather than the destination. You might call this “liminal space.” You might call it normal life. We are all in between: stages, phases, jobs, places, life and death.

I recently heard a man describe the in-between place we all live in as not only “both/and” but also “neither/nor.” 

Someone who is on a journey is neither at their point of origin nor their point of destination. 

Someone who is a refugee is at home neither in their home country nor their country of asylum.

Someone who is a Christian is neither far from the kingdom, nor have they arrived in the kingdom.

Framing the in-between in this way is helpful to us. It does not negate the place of “in-between,” but it dignifies the disconsolate feeling we may sometimes have on the road where we’re traveling. In such cases as these, a kind of courage is required: the courage to continue. The phrase comes to my mind frequently—it’s often attributed to Winston Churchill: “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”[1]

The Battle in the Tunnel

When Bilbo Baggins, our hero in The Hobbit, approaches the lair of the terrifying dragon, Smaug, Tolkien tells us that he pauses in the passageway outside the cave where the dragon lies. Here, alone, Bilbo fights “the real battle:”

It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.[2]

In our darkened tunnels and passageways, in the in-betweenness of life, we require courage to—day in and day out—put one foot in front of the other and continue, despite the obstacles and confusion. If we are disoriented in our place, we still must carry on. Sometimes this is the simple act of getting out of bed in the morning. This, too, requires courage.

We so often want courage to be at the top of the mountain. We want it to be the shouted accomplishments of influencers, athletes, and heroes. These famous faces of accomplishment serve their purpose. Who doesn’t love a good human-interest Olympic athlete story? These triumphant stories serve as inspiration; they provide a frame of reference for the sacrifice and dedication required to scale to new heights of athletic achievement. 

But in reality, the acts of courage are the ones behind the scenes. They are what happens in the in-between spaces. There was a day the athletes bailed on practice because they were tired and sore. There was a week when the student failed multiple assignments and almost dropped out. There was a season of motherhood when she thought about running away from home. These moments do not get celebrated on social media.

In these cases, a moment of courage occurred. The Lord supplied the courage to continue. We know from Hebrews that we humans “have need of endurance” (Hebrews 10:36, ESV), and that the Lord is faithful to supply it. It is easy for humans to fall away, fainting. Day-to-day living can grind us down, and it is hard to be hopeful. It is in these times that we most need to hear the refrain, “Fear not.”

In these times, God is faithful to supply what He knows that we need. He enables the defeated athlete, the discouraged student, and the mother who is worn thin. Until . . .

The next day, he went back to practice.

The following week, she kept on studying, revisited the rough draft, and tried again.

The next season finally came, and she was able to enjoy motherhood again.

But the time of resolution was not the point of courage. Oh no, it was much earlier. The courage that they demonstrated was ten steps before: it was in the tiny measure of hope and faith it took just to continue.

Don’t do the next thing just so that you can keep doing the next thing. Do the next thing because it honors God and testifies of His goodness and the goodness of your life to your neighbor. (― Alan Noble, On Getting Out of Bed: The Burden and Gift of Living)

[1] The International Churchill Society maintains that he did not say this.

[2] Tolkien, .J.R.R. The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.

The featured image, “Summer Road in England,” is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and is used with her glad permission for Cultivating.


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