I watched a video yesterday of a well-known minister talking to a group—pretty sure they also were ministers—about courage. I personally like this speaker and greatly admire him professionally, so I had no problem listening to and being open to his message. I felt “convicted” often, to use a term that Christians like to throw around, meaning that we hear something we know we should obey and in fact really believe we will as soon as the talk is over but then somehow rationalize our way out of thirty seconds after the video/talk/sermon/lesson concludes.
I was convicted.
In that way.
Because all of what he said was in fact something that I—and dare I say most of us—want to hear not because it makes us comfortable but because it makes us uncomfortable in an extremely exciting way. He challenged people to consider whether they “really would follow Jesus”…whether we really would leave our parents, our spouses, our children, our loved ones’ unburied bodies… all to follow him.
And certainly, while one listens to this, one’s heart is stirred. One thinks—I too think—“Why… Yes! I want to follow Jesus like that. I want to be courageous like that!”
And I know the speaker believes this and I know he wants this for himself and even has followed his own advice.
Yet, for the vast majority of us, for the 99.99% of us, even for the 90%+ of those listening that day to this very believable and winsome and sincere and candid speaker who many and I value greatly, for us courage… and faith… and obedience… means not leaving when a voice calls but rather staying put. Dealing with it.
Like Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Because when I heard this speaker’s opening example of what he thought was courageous, and which most of us would agree was courageous and was in fact courageous, and which closely mirrored a story in my life when I risked bodily harm on behalf of another and on which I often “hang my hat” to cling to an image of self-worth when it comes to this courage thing, when I heard him tell this story and then cite the biblical examples of courage, they all shared one thing: action.
This is not to say that action out of obedience is not filled with faith and courage. It genuinely can be. This is rather to say that sometimes God calls us not to act but to not act.
To slog, even.
There are plenty of examples in the Bible of God calling people to do stuff—to act—in a way that those around would think crazy: Abraham nearly sacrificing Isaac; Noah building an ark; marching around Jericho seven times and blowing on a horned instrument in order to defeat a city. Not exactly a winning strategy in my opinion. First-year failure at the War College.
But those servants obeyed and acted and were faithful. And courageous.
What did Mary hear and what did Mary do?
Mary heard from the angel Gabriel, “You are pregnant though you have never been with a man. God did it. Give birth to this baby. He will save the world.” She said, “may it be done to me according to your word.” May it be done to me.
And this, in my opinion, is the big difference in how men and women experience pain and suffering.
What? I thought we were talking about courage. We are. Courage is about doing something painful when you don’t want to do it.
The difference in men and women when it comes to pain and suffering is seen chiefly in the Weight Room/Delivery Room Dichotomy. I bet you didn’t know there is such a thing. There is.
Men experience pain, and claim to suffer nobly, when we go to the gym and lift weights and sweat and tear and rebuild our muscles. We say, “No pain, no…” We gain mainly through self-inflicted and monthly-membership-fee-paying pain. It is self-controlled, approximately an hour-long, sufficiently air-conditioned pain, preferably with towel service and copious single women who we think ogle us when in fact they are only laughing inside about how we think they’re ogling us.
Women, on the other hand, give birth.
I have been at the birth of all three of my sons and have seen each in all its glory. As anyone who has been at a birth can attest—mother, father, caregiver, doctor, nurse, photographer—the one thing missing from most Christmas crèche scenes is the smell. And I’m not talking about the sheep. And that’s just for starters.
And by the way: I’m bringing this up not to curry favor with my wife or other women I know. My wife is from Texas, and there’s essentially no way to curry favor with a Texan wife except for finding her a good Tex-Mex restaurant here in New York City, which I have failed four times at and thereby have lost all credibility. This blog post about the differences in how women and men suffer will not change that. Tell me where to find a really good chimichanga and free chips and salsa, and I might stand a chance. But not with this post.
I’m bringing this up because the nature of my suffering lately is to stay put and deal with what’s been dealt to me. And I can’t. Or at least, inwardly, I know I have fought it tooth and nail. Many times.
I want to suffer like a man—like Maximus on the Germania battlefield in “Gladiator”—not like a woman with her legs spread apart in front of five people in hospital gowns and a sixth doing Instagram. I want to lop off the head of an enemy with one whack of my broad sword. Not have both breasts removed by the deft hand of a surgeon.
I don’t want to suffer like a woman.
And yet, I exist on this planet because of the courage of a woman who, even though she couldn’t raise me as her son was at least brave enough—at age 18 and unmarried in 1963—to carry me around for nine months and then spread her legs on May 17 in front of a room full of strangers and no husband. Likewise, I witnessed my (adoptive) mother courageously giving in to brain cancer when there was nothing to do but to give in and live courageously her remaining days. She put on her best blouse and skirt, showing off the legs of a woman half her age, and went to Thanksgiving dinner on Long Island with the entire extended family the way we always did, even though her head was swelled to the size of a pumpkin. She had a martini and didn’t give a shit. She wanted to be with family. She didn’t go anywhere new to be courageous; she stayed. She died about a week later.
The courage of a woman has been a model always, even if it’s one I can’t seem to follow.
Anything I am suffering from these past days and years—real or imagined—I want to suffer like a man and conquer. I want masculine courage to help me strike out and take hold of. Climb up over-vert and capture. And be loud doing so. Yell. A lot. Because few are the “guy movies” where the main character is silently courageous. Gotta be a loud badass to be a really courageous badass.
Instead I’m being asked to be rather quiet. Subservient. To stay put. Have the courage of Mary. See it through. Trust. Don’t worry about your reputation. Or your agenda. Or your dreams. You will be disliked.
Jesus suffered at times like a man. And he suffered at times like a woman. He suffered in a way that each of us can gather strength from. He did it all.
I wish only that these days I was being asked to suffer like a man. Because I’d almost rather lose an arm in battle than my dignity in a silent coup.
But there you have it.
Time to shower and wake the others for breakfast.
Russell Crowe in “Gladiator.” Image by AndrosForm.com.