Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
share post

Courage to Turn Back

June 17, 2024

Athena Williams

Cultivating Identity is dedicated to exploring the elements that contribute to each person’s sense of identity, including story, song, art, community, Creation, Scripture and more. How do these experiences influence us and help shape who we are becoming? Courage is required to examine our own hearts, so in this column we will embark on this journey together and encourage one another along the way. 

Last year I started a new journey. I was excited and mentally prepared; I knew my reasons for going, and I knew how hard it would be, but the destination I anticipated was worth the difficulties I expected to face. I set out, pack well-provisioned, with the sun shining and the path clear, though steadily uphill as far as I could see. Before long, I came to the first bend in the road and saw that it was taking a turn in a direction I did not wish to go. I checked the brochure; there was no mention of this ill-looking way, though I began to see how reading between the lines could suggest a destination other than the one I had imagined. In fact, I realized with some chagrin that I had made assumptions unsupported by the clear facts. I had a tough decision to make: Do I stay on this path anyway, honoring my commitment regardless of the destination? Or do I turn around and take a different path, one that would lead to where I actually wanted to go? “Quitting” taunted me from within, threatened to defeat me, called me a failure. 

We are shaped by our choices—by the influences we choose to include in our lives, and also by the things we choose to walk away from. It takes courage to say yes to something hard, but it also takes courage to say no to something good. Just because something is good does not mean it is right for my life. 

I didn’t want to “quit” when I realized I was on the wrong path. I’ve never been one to give up just because something is tough, but neither does it make sense to stick with something that isn’t right for me just because it’s tough. Letting go is also tough. Walking away, choosing a new direction, goes against my natural inclinations. That’s why it requires courage. I had to accept the difference between changing course and giving up. Giving up is ceasing to try, no longer moving forward in any direction. 

The core of our identity is rooted in our belonging in Christ; this is the common identity all believers share. But we also each express a unique identity as individuals. There are things about our identity that are unchangeable, such as our ancestry, culture of origin, and genetic traits. But there are also facets of our identity that we get to shape. We can learn and grow, experience things, and meet people. Tastes and preferences can be cultivated or neglected. 

We love stories that exemplify courage in the face of impossible odds, like The Lord of the Rings, Prince Caspian, or David and Goliath. We wonder whether we could have such courage in similar circumstances—but most of us are called to the courage of being faithful without greatness. We seldom hear the heroic stories of the single mom who persevered working two jobs for years to provide for her kids, or the teacher who taught math passionately to equip students for life and work. Can I be content to serve courageously in the background while someone else serves courageously in the spotlight? This is not failure. It’s the ministry of coming alongside, and it takes a great deal of courage. 

If I had chosen to stay on the path I started last year, by this time next year I would be a different person than the one who chose to turn back. Both staying and turning back are valid choices, and we can only choose based on the information available. Which choice will lead me to the identity I want to pursue? This question is easy when the choice is between something evil or obviously contrary to God’s commands and something that is good, in accordance with His will. It is much less easy when the choice is between two good things, both of which may glorify His name in very different ways. Then how do we choose?

This is where the Body of Christ comes in. While we are considering our identity as individuals, we also have a corporate identity—the Church. God has provided us with many counselors, friends, prayer partners, pastors … people who care and can help. We were not meant to make difficult decisions in isolation. I am grateful for the people who listened and helped me understand my situation from different perspectives. I chose to turn around and take a different path, one that is a supporting role. Others’ lights will shine more brightly than my own, but faithfulness is not about comparing myself with others. It’s about wholeheartedly doing the things the Lord has appointed for me to do. It took courage to make that decision, but it will also take courage for me to continue along the path I am on now. Each step forward is also a choice—we need courage every day. 

Whether you are traveling a difficult road in the right direction or perhaps recognizing the need to make a change, may you live courageously every step of the way.

The featured image, “Path Through Shotover Woods,” is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and is used with her glad permission for Cultivating.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

A Field Guide to Cultivating ~ Essentials to Cultivating a Whole Life, Rooted in Christ, and Flourishing in Fellowship

Enjoy our gift to you as our Welcome to Cultivating! Discover the purpose of The Cultivating Project, and how you might find a "What, you too?" experience here with this fellowship of makers!

Receive your complimentary e-book

Explore the

Editions Archive


organized for ease by author and category.

View Our Editions Archive