Welcome to the 40 Day Courage Challenge, you brave, beautiful human! Fear has long been made into the enemy that must be crushed and vanquished. Fear has been pitted against faith and we are told if we are afraid it is a sign our faith is receiving an F. Fear is not the enemy. Wanting to stop feeling afraid is the enemy. Fear is one of the four primary human emotions and is a normal part of the human experience. Fear is something that we all feel. All our faith heroes and real life heroes feel afraid. Rather than accepting fear as neither good nor bad, we have been convinced that experiencing this primary human emotion makes us weak or less than. So, we deny to ourselves and others that we are afraid and instead we say we are stressed or overwhelmed. When we don’t acknowledge and name our fear, we lose our ability to choose our response. 

 

It is not the fear that is the problem; it is how we respond to the fear that causes problems. The Greek word for fear φόβος, means terror, reverence, awe and it also means withdrawing or fleeing. The emotion of fear floods our body with an energy that makes us want to withdraw or run. We all feel fear and we all withdraw or run. The question is what our response to the bodily sensation of fear is. Where do we run?  We all feel the same fear; the difference between cowardice and courage is how we respond to this fear. Brene Brown writes  “Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor - the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart.’" The Courage Challenge is about living fully and authentically from our hearts, even in the face of fear and learning how to trust that God is conspiring on our behalf, even when we can’t yet see it. 

Fear is not the opposite of faith, instead it provides us with continual opportunities to grow in our faith. The Psalmist writes, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you,” Psalm 56:3. One of the side benefits of the Covid Pandemic is it is certainly inviting us with lots of opportunities to keep choosing to put our trust in God.  At the end of this challenge, you will be more courageous, more in sync with God and you will learn how to mine the treasure trove of your fears.

 

DAY ONE

 

Mantra: Today I will notice my fear without judgment 

 

Morning Meditation (60 seconds)

I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
Psalm 139:2 (MSG)

 

You were made by God as a human being. Body and soul God made you marvelously. Your fear, joy, anger and sadness are all part of being fully human. Find a comfortable place where you can sit in silence, reread Psalm 139:2 and then meditate for 60 seconds. It doesn’t seem like much, but small actions lead to major shifts. Small acts of faith will eventually move mountains.

 

As you go throughout your day today notice without judgment the times you feel fear or stress. Each time you notice the sensation of fear, remind yourself you are a human having a human experience. You would not shame yourself or call yourself weak for the biological response of sneezing. You would never try to conquer sneezing or try to live a “sneezeless” existence. In the same way, notice your fear without judging yourself.

 

Journal

Write down a time today when you experienced fear or stress. Answer the following questions:

1. What was the cause of an experience of fear/stress?

2. How did I respond to this experience of fear/stress?

DAY TWO

 

Mantra: I am willing to see things differently

 

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the wonderful future God has promised…

Ephesians 1: 18a (NLT)

 

Courage, as we remember, is a word that originally meant to speak one’s mind by telling one’s heart. Our hearts are full of wisdom and dreams. Our hearts are how God speaks to us. When we are disconnected from our hearts and from the energetic flow of divine Love, we start to believe stories about ourselves and stories about others that aren’t true. Today we are telling God that we are willing to see things differently. Imagine the Divine flooding your heart with light and compassion, so you can see clearly.

 

Morning Meditation (70 seconds)

Find a comfortable place where you can sit in silence, reread Ephesians 1:18a and then meditate for 70 seconds. It is perfectly normal for your thoughts to wander. This happens to everybody. Grab your journal or a piece of paper and list two or three things or people that you perceive are causing you fear or stress. Remember to be gentle with yourself and not judge yourself as you do this exercise. Self-attack and judgment will block you from being truthful with yourself and cause you to get defensive. It is essential to be honest with yourself and allow light to shine on your fear so that you can be lead towards courage. Close your eyes and take three deeps breaths in and out and then repeat this prayer for every person or situation on your list.  

 

Prayer

God, please flood my heart with light so I can clearly see the love, abundance and beauty in my life. God, I am willing to see _____________(name of person or situation) differently. May it be so. 

DAY THREE

 

Mantra: When I own my fear, I get to choose a brave response

 

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.

-Henry David Thoreau

 

We all know that feeling. On a biological level, our amygdala (the part of the brain that plays a key role in processing emotional responses including fear, anxiety and aggression) signals to our body that we are under attack. Our adrenal glands release adrenaline, and the blood flow decreases to our brain’s frontal lobe, which is responsible for logical thinking and decision making.  Suddenly, our decision making ability is not at its finest. Our heart rate and blood pressure increase, we breathe faster and our muscles tense up. Our blood flows towards our larger, interior muscles, getting us ready to run or fight. When we experience the bodily sensation of fear, we create stories in our attempt to find the meaning of this sensation of fear.

 

As humans, we are biologically wired for stories and to create meaning out of our experiences. For most of us, we view the primary emotion of fear as extremely uncomfortable and try to get away from it as much as we can by denying its existence or numbing ourselves from fear through our drug of choice, be it the need to control the world around us or binge watch TV or drink or work nonstop. When we deny or numb ourselves from our fear, we give up our ability to write our own stories of what this fear experience means. When we own our fear, we get to choose a brave response. Fear is a bodily sensation and a feeling. You get to choose a story of courage. What else could your experience of fear mean? What is the truest, most courageous and most beautiful story you could write for yourself about what your experience of fear means? Consider the meaning Bruce Springsteen finds when his body experiences fear:

“Just before I go onstage my heart beats a little faster…my hands sweat a little…my legs go numb as if I’m getting pins and needles…and then I get a tight feeling in the pit of my stomach that starts to spin round and round…When I get all those feelings, I know I’m excited and ready to go onstage.”

 

Morning Meditation (70 seconds)

 

Journal

Grab your journal or a piece of paper and think of a time when you experienced fear or stress. Think of the story you accepted about the meaning of that fear. For example, ‘I was stressed when I give that presentation at work because I am a terrible public speaker’ or ‘I feel afraid my partner does not really love me.’ Think about a different meaning for the bodily sensation of that fear. Write down the truest, most courageous and beautiful story you can think of for that experience of fear. For example, ‘I am grateful to have my job and really want to do well, so of course when I gave the presentation I felt the fear/excitement. This is how my body responds when I have the opportunity to take a risk and do something that really matters to me.’ Or ‘My partner means the world to me and I want more than anything to have a deep connection. I feel this sensation of fear in being vulnerable with my partner, but I will never have this deep connection unless I risk, so here we go!’

 

Prayer

God, help me to see the experience of fear differently. Allow me to see love, courage and beauty when I am afraid. Help me to only accept meanings that allow me to live my truest, bravest self. May it be so.

DAY FOUR

Mantra: Fear can show me what matters to me the most

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:21

 

Fear’s job is to protect us and to keep us safe. Fear takes its responsibilities very, very seriously. You will experience your most intense fears surrounding what you treasure the most. Think about some experiences you have had of fear. What was the fear guarding? Have you ever noticed that when you experience fear, fear is focused on protecting that which is most important to you? This makes sense. What do we lock up in safes? We do not lock up our Tupperware and hammers; we lock up our valuables. Fear is like a safe, guarding and protecting our valuables. Fear knows what is most precious to us, stationing itself around what is most precious and constantly surveying the horizon for any sign of danger. Fear takes its job very seriously of keeping you and that which you treasure safe from harm. Since fear’s only resource in achieving fear’s mission of keeping you and your treasures safe is to flood your body with adrenaline and decrease blood flow from your decision making, rational processing frontal cortex, this “help” at times can be more like a toddler helping with cooking, creating more problems than it is solving. However, the gift is fear can actually lead us back to our own hearts if we pay attention to when we experience the most intense sensations of fear. Behind the most intense fear you experience are your greatest loves, hopes and dreams. What treasures and loves is your fear guarding?

 

Morning Meditation (70 seconds)

Get comfy and sit in silence, noticing your breath. Meditation is listening and prayer is talking to God. Both are important in opening ourselves up to the power of the divine.

 

Journal

Grab your journal or a piece of paper and write the answer to the following questions:

1. What are two fears or stresses you have experienced recently?

2. What treasures or loves is this fear trying to keep safe for you?

 

Prayer

God, help me to see experiences of fear differently. Show me the great loves and treasures that fear is guarding for me. May you transform experiences of fear to lead me back to my heart, so I can choose courage. Help me make brave choices to honour and nourish that which is most sacred and precious to me. May it be so.

DAY FIVE

Mantra: I have everything I need

The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need.  

Psalm 23:1 (GNT)

It has been said that gratitude is the antidote to fear. On a spiritual level this makes sense because when we express gratitude, we are recognizing that God has given us everything we need in this moment. We realize we are a part of Something Bigger and that Something Bigger has been and is currently working on our behalf to put into motion goodness and beauty that is far beyond our capacity to accomplish. When we are grateful, we are expressing appreciation for the wonders and love in our lives and appreciating that we can trust ourselves to God in this moment. Gratitude is NOT a tool to attempt to be constantly positive and to practice avoidance and denial. In avoiding and denying “difficult” emotions, we are choosing to cut ourselves off from our own hearts. It is important to notice, name and hear the messages our “difficult” emotions are communicating to us AND it is important to practice gratitude. It is not either or.

 

On a neuroscience level, according to research from UCLA Mindful Awareness Research  Center, regularly practicing gratitude changes the molecular structure of the brain by keeping gray matter healthy. Essentially, it does for your brain what working out does for your body. Gratitude also boosts the neurotransmitter serotonin and activates the brain stem to produce dopamine. Dopamine is known as the “happy hormone”, so when we regularly practice gratitude we are infusing ourselves with happiness.

 

The best defense is a good offense. Practicing gratitude daily will allow us to be better prepared to respond with courage and integrity when we do experience sensations of fear. Gratitude is also a great practice during moments of fear. It cracks us open to a more expansive perspective and gives us the ability to see the bigger picture.

 

Journal

Write down five things and/or people you are grateful for.

 

Morning Meditation (70 seconds)

Place one of your hands over your heart and breathe deeply. This will allow you to reconnect your mind, body and soul.

 

Prayer

‘Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding. —Alice Walker

 

Take your list of what you are grateful for and turn your list into a prayer:

 

God, thank you that in this exact moment, I have everything I need. I am grateful for _____________(your list). Thank you for all the goodness, abundance and wonder in my life. Amen.

 

(It is okay if you don’t feel it. The ‘thank you prayer’ is a practice, that the more we do it, the more grateful we become.)

DAY SIX

Mantra: Everything works together for good  

 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

 

Gratitude cracks us open to an awareness of the sacred and the holy in our life. When we are grateful we notice God’s movement and work. God is the energy of love, at work in everything for our good. If God is at work in everything, then every situation and relationship in our lives is infused with the holiness of God’s restorative activity. Something Bigger is working in ways we cannot see or even imagine in everything for our good.  

 

Morning Meditation (70 seconds)

Name out loud five things or people you are grateful for. Place one of your hands over your heart and breathe deeply. This will allow you to reconnect your mind, body and soul.

 

Journal

We are going deep today! This is one of my all time favourite practices because it has been powerful in shifting my perspective and expanding my faith. This journal prompt is an opportunity for gratitude even in the difficult areas. Write down one situation or a relationship in your life that causes you fear or stress. God is at work in the situation or relationship you write down, which means there is goodness there. Write down the opportunities for love, learning and growth this situation or relationship is gifting you with. For example, the sensation of fear that I won’t get everything done in a day that I “need” to get done has given me the opportunity to learn that my value isn’t in what I produce. This fear also gives me opportunities to trust that God is bringing about the highest good and to let go of the false idea that I can bring about the highest good on my own by my productivity. I am grateful for the experience of fear of not being productive enough because it has become an opportunity for me to grow in faith.

Prayer

Thank you, God for the gift of  ____________(situation or relationship causing fear). And thank you that even with ________________ (situation or relationship causing fear) you are working to bring about goodness. Amen.

DAY EIGHT

‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Mark 12:30

 

Mantra: Today I will notice how I treat myself

 

Listen, you brave, beloved and beautiful human. You were created by Love, with Love in Love and for Love. You were intentionally and divinely woven together to create the mysterious and wonder invoking heart, mind and body that is you. You in all your youness, are a gift and delight to God and the people around you, when you allow yourself to be exactly as you are. Yet, something happens. We are told that we are too much or not enough. We are told that love and belonging is the prize of hustling and making ourselves shiny and perfect. We start to cover over our wild and holy selves by shaming the authentic parts of us that other people tell us are problematic. I totally get it. One day I had really screwed something up and was in one of those shame spirals, harshly criticizing myself.  My friend looked at me and frowned and said, “Stop talking about my friend Kate that way. She is an amazing person and what you are saying about her is not at all true.” I think until that moment, I did not even realize how destructive this voice in my head was. I did not realize what I was regularly telling myself was causing my heart to crawl under a rock and hide. I had just believed the harsh things and accepted them as the truth about me.

 

I think the loving ourselves part of Jesus’ commandment is likely one of the greatest spiritual challenges and opportunities we have. For most of us, offering ourselves compassion is something we have not been practicing and instead, we have been feeding our minds and hearts with a steady diet of unrealistic and harsh criticism. We are not able to choose courage when we are disconnected from compassion because our hearts are hiding from us under rocks. When we practice compassion, we are able to realign with God. In one act of self-compassion, we step back into the flow of Love that we were created to live in and our souls can finally breathe, relax and enjoy. It is from this place that we can choose to be brave. At the end of this week’s exercises, your compassion will be stronger and more expansive.

 

You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.

 

Meditation (80 seconds)

Find a place and get comfortable. Place your hand over your heart. Reread aloud, ‘You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.’ Take a deep breath and sit in silence for 80 seconds.

 

Journal

Without judgment, notice harsh, critical things you have said to yourself today. Write down two or three of the things you have said.

 

Prayer

God, you wove me together out of love and created me for love. You made me in your divine image to radiate goodness and bring delight. Please help me to see me the way you see me. May it be so.

DAY NINE

 

There is this word in Hebrew that is one of those BIG concept words. It is the word to describe God’s affections and actions toward us. Hesed. When I took Hebrew and then later taught Hebrew, hesed was so frustrating to translate because there is no English equivalent to do it justice. There is not an English word that can carry the full weight and robustness, so every time I want translate hesed, I felt almost like I was mistranslating it.  Hesed has been translated as ‘love’ such as Psalm 136, with the repeated refrain: His hesed/love endures forever. In Isaiah 54:10, depending on which version of the Bible you are reading, hesed has also been translated as compassion, kindness, unfailing love, faithful love, loving devotion, loving kindness, gracious love, devotion or tenacious solidarity. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, my hesed for you will not be shaken. Isaiah 54:10 If we could put all those words and phrases in a blender and blend them together, we would be moving closer to what hesed means. And this is a BIG concept because it is the energy that created you and what you are meant to live in and breathe in every day of your life. You, unconditionally beloved human, have a God who created you and surrounds you with loving compassion, kindness, unfailing love, devotion and is in tenacious solidarity with you. Always. Let’s say yes to this.

 

Metta Meditation (approximately 4-5 minutes)

I am so thrilled to have the opportunity to share Metta Meditation with you. One of the best ways to crack us open to allowing divine love in, is through Metta Meditation.  The word ‘metta’ comes from an ancient Indian language called Pali and means ‘loving kindness’. It is a powerful way connect to the hesed that is within us and around us. The practice comes to us from our Buddhist friends. The words have been changed and adapted throughout the years, much like we have different versions of scripture. I have adapted the words here.  I welcome you to change the words of the blessing to reflect what is inside of you after you have done the meditation once or twice. We all were created in the image of God with an infinite capacity for love and friendship that is unconditional and gentle and supportive.

 

Find a comfortable place to sit or lay. Reflect on your basic goodness. Think about a time when you were kind or generous. Think about a time when you contributed in some small way to making somebody’s day better. Send yourself gratitude for making the earth a slightly better place. Reflect on how it feels to be a part of Something Bigger. And now place a hand over your heart and slowly say this blessing:

 

May I be filled with love. May I be filled with joy. May I have peace and ease. May I live from my heart.

 

Now bring to mind a person who is precious to you. This is someone who you care about and has been supportive to you. Reflect on this person’s basic goodness. Send loving gratitude to this person for helping to improve the quality of your day. Consider that just like you, they want to be a part of Something Bigger than themselves. Just like you, they are doing the best they know how. With this person in your heart, say the blessing over them:

 

May you be filled with love. May you be filled with joy. May you have peace and ease. May you live from your heart.

 

Now bring to mind a ‘nuetral’ person. This is someone who you don’t see regularly and you don’t know well. The person may be a store clerk or a crossing guard or a neighbour. Reflect on this person’s basic goodness. Send loving gratitude for the ways this person is helping improve the quality of other people’s days, even if you can’t see it. Just like you, this person feels good being a part of Something Bigger. Just like you, this person is doing the best they know how. With this person in your heart, say a blessing over them:

 

May you be filled with love. May you be filled with joy. May you have peace and ease. May you live from your heart.

 

Now bring to mind a person who you do not always see eye to eye with. This is a person who has different opinions than you and maybe the differences have created difficulty in the relationship. See if it is possible in this moment to let go of feelings of resentment. Remind yourself that this person has basic goodness. Just like you, this person feels good being part of Something Bigger. Just like you, this person is doing the best they know how. With this person in your heart, say a blessing over them:

 

May you be filled with love. May you be filled with joy. May you have peace and ease. May you live from your heart.

 

Now bring to mind all humans and living creatures everywhere and extend this blessing to all of  humanity:

 

May you be filled with love. May you be filled with joy. May you have peace and ease. May you live from your heart.

 

DAY TEN

 

Mantra: I am willing to see myself with grace and truth

 

You have been crowned humanity with divine radiance and dignity. Psalm 8:5

 

You are crowned with divine splendor and dignity. You are inherently and irrevocably worthy. The more you live authentically and from your heart, the brighter the goodness and glory of God shines through you. Did you catch that? The more authentically YOU that YOU are, the more intense the brightness of divinity shines through you. This is everything. This is the heart of the good news of Jesus coming among us to disrupt our self-loathing and to show us how to live in human bodies, fully reflecting the divine radiance that is bursting out of us. This gospel is a bit much for us and we actively resist it because most of us are living a different story and identity.

 

Whether we realize it or not, we all have an overarching story and identity that we have accepted for ourselves that was passed down to us from our primary caregivers and/or early influencers. And as humans, we are hardwired to align ourselves to this story and identity, even if it is toxic. That destructive voice of harsh criticism is the script of the story, incorrectly telling us who we are, how other people see us and what we cannot do. Psychologists have called this phenomenon self-fulfilling prophecy. It is the process through which we make our false beliefs and incorrect expectations become a reality because our energy subconsciously goes into finding confirmation of what we have accepted as true. In a classic study on self-fulfilling prophecies, research has repeatedly demonstrated that teachers’ expectations largely determine the levels students perform. This means students who had teachers who believed in their academic capabilities, performed successfully and students who were deemed academically deficient performed at a much lower level. One of the identities that I accepted at a very young age without realizing I had a choice in identities, was that I needed to be humble in order to be loved. It got much worse than merely conditional love, because in the story I was taught, to be humble meant to never think a kind thought about myself, never celebrate any successes and never get ‘too big for my britches.’ The script I was handed said, the more self-loathing, the better because it made me exceedingly ‘humble’. I lived in a story of love=humility=hating myself. This was obviously a very destructive and painful identity.

 

The truth about you and the truth about me, is that out of love, with great delight and intention God crafted us in God’s very image to radiate dignity and honour. We are wired with infinite capacity for creativity and it is in our very DNA to create massive value by serving with joy in the places that make our hearts burst with life. Today, let’s look with truth and grace at the toxic stories and identities we have accepted. Let’s allow the Spirit to disrupt and dismantle anything that is keeping us from the truth of who we are and what we are capable of.

 

“I am larger, better than I thought; I did not know I held so much goodness.” – Walt Whitman

 

Meditation (two minutes)

 

Journal

Take some time to reflect and then write down one toxic identity you have accepted. For example:

I can’t beat this addiction.

I am so different from everybody else  and do not belong.

I want to write a book, but I don’t have what it takes.  

 

If nothing is immediately coming, use one of these as a prompt:

1. I do/don’t___________________________

2. I can’t______________________________

3. I should/shouldn’t ___________________

4. I am/I am not________________________

 

Prayer:

God, help me to see myself with grace and truth. Disrupt the false identities I have accepted. Let me see myself with the delight and dignity that you see me.

 

Journal

Now flip the script. Take what you have written and wrap it in grace and truth. For example:

 

I can’t beat this addiction.

I can beat this addiction. I am built to live a vibrant life of freedom and joy. I will take this minute by minute. I am opening myself up to all the strength and growth that only comes through struggle. Once I am on the other side, my story will bring hope and freedom to others.

 

I am so different from everybody else and do not belong.

I am uniquely wired to serve the world in a specific way, so there is nobody else like me. At the same time, as part of the human race, I am connected to every single human on the planet. Just like me, every person I see wants to feel love and ease and peace. Just like me, every single person wants to feel belonging and purpose. I belong to them and they belong to me. We all belong to each other. 

 

I want to write a book, but I don’t have what it takes.  

God is leading me write a book, so I am going to learn how to be a writer, study the craft of writing and put the work in. There are words inside of me that somebody needs to hear. I will trust the outcome to God. I am capable of writing many books.

DAY ELEVEN

Mantra: I am grateful for me

 

I will give thanks to you for I am awe-invokingly and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14

 

Have you ever thought about Psalm 139:14? The psalmist is offering gratitude for how fantastically God made the psalmist. The psalmist is celebrating the psalmist’s self and saying thank you. Have you ever offered gratitude for you?

 

The Latin word gratia is the root from where our word gratitude comes. Gratia means grace. Grace, as in, ‘You have been saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8)’. Grace, as in God’s no strings attached love, commitment and affection for you that you did not do anything to earn. Grace is God standing in tenacious solidarity with you, even more than you are standing with yourself. Gratitude is our recognition and response to our grace soaked lives.

 

You are worth giving gratitude for. You are worth celebrating. Your life is the gift of grace and goodness.  Your awe invoking self is grace in the flesh. Your face, your freckles, your idiosyncrasies, your spirit and your courageous heart are grace incarnate. And guess what? I for one, am so grateful for the gift of you.

 

Meditation (2 minutes)

Find a comfortable place and notice your breath. Reread Psalm 139:14, I will give thanks to you for I am awe-invokingly and wonderfully made. Sit in silence for two minutes, opening yourself up to seeing God’s grace and loving kindness in the very fabric of who you are.

 

Prayer

God, I give you thanks that I am awe-invokingly and wonderfully made. Thank you for crafting me together exactly as you did. Thank you that my personality, my body, my spirit and my heart are expressions of your love and glory. Here are reasons why I am grateful for me:

1. _____________

2. _____________

3. _____________

4. _____________

5. _____________

Thank you, God. Talk to you soon. Amen.

sT. ANDREW'S UNITED CHURCH

32 Main St N

Markham, ON

L3P 1X5

Tel: (905) 294-0351

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