A Warming in the Heart
Cor (Latin) – heart; innermost feelings.
Courage – the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc. without fear.
Encourage – to fill with courage by giving support, confidence, or hope to someone.
The word “courage” had always intimidated me a little – it seemed to connotate a stiff upper lip, pushing through fear and pain no matter the backlash, and machismo. It seemed hard and daunting and fierce.
That is, until as a freshman in college I learned that “courage” comes from the Latin word for heart. Then I fell in love with the word instantly. Epic poems I read in college referenced courage as a “warming in the heart” and courageous men as “men with hearts”. I loved picturing courage this way – overcoming fear, pain, and hardship with strong full hearts. Strong people moving through the world chest first.
It was still several more years before I learned to view myself as a person of courage. I thought of myself as a rational person, carefully evaluating and planning out each decision and each new foray into the new or unknown. I did not think I needed courage because I was being careful. I was minimizing risks. I was making “smart” decisions and staying “safe”. I saw myself moving forward head first into the world.
But when my thoughtful decisions and careful plans failed, when my mind could not find a logical reason or practical answer, all I had left was a slight warming in my heart. And that warmth was small, almost insignificant in the face of what I was confronting. It was not the great full thing I had always pictured. I did not know how this slight warmth could possibly enable me to face the great difficulty, fear, and pain in front of me.
And that is when I re-discovered another word I had always had lukewarm feelings for – “encouragement”. “Encouragement” brought to mind cheesy Hallmark cards and church ladies with too much perfume gently patting you on the shoulder. It seemed sickly sweet and insignificant. I gratefully discovered that that was a weak, anemic definition of encouragement.
Encouragement is a filling with courage. It is a stoking of the flames in another’s heart. It is giving oxygen and fuel to the courage in the chest of another; often when their flames are starting to smolder out. I began to see the dear friends and family speaking words of life and truth and beauty to me as holding their hands around the small flickers in my heart and blowing the embers back to life. Encouragement also came through the work of writers, artists, and musicians whom I have never even met. Their words, music, and art offering strength and courage. The days when I did not know if the fire in my heart could possibly be enough to keep me moving forward, were the days when I became most thankful for my encouragers.
Valentine’s Day gets a bad rap because it can seem like all it is about is happy couples, pink teddy bears, and chalky candy hearts. There is a lot of mystery about the origin of the holiday but my favorite stories all involve St. Valentine sending notes of love to people who needed encouragement – prisoners, widows, orphans, the poor. I like to think of St. Valentine as a model for the best encourager – noticing the people around him whose flames were dying down and needed stoking. People who may not have been experiencing much love or care from others. People who may have been kept going by a simple heartfelt love note.
We will all confront seasons in our lives that call for courage beyond what we think we have inside of us. It is those times when we need to look for the encouragers in our lives – people who know us and love us and can fan the dying embers in our souls. And we will also all find ourselves in seasons where we are called to be the encouragers – breathing life and giving fuel to the fire in the hearts of others – some loved ones and maybe even some strangers. We never know how much our words of encouragement could be strengthening another. May we all lean into the world a little more heart first.
Happy St. Valentine’s Day.