Encouraging Courage

by Robin Mitzcavitch, Director of Religious Exploration

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the word “courage”. It is the May Touchstone theme for the church and the Religious Exploration program. Weighing on my mind are the citizens of Ukraine trying to brave the war and take care of their families. I am also reminded of our families from Afghanistan who have come to America, many here in Worcester, and the bravery it takes to start anew in unchartered territory. Thankfully there are people like the folks from our Refugee Ministry team who, even with the challenge of language and custom barriers, have been courageously caring for those who need us now.

We had author Wendy O’Leary in to talk about her new book called “Monster Parade.” She asked our RE children how they could have courage to face their big feelings and notice them, and then let them move on by, like in a big parade. This is the type of parade which you don’t need to join in yourself. Oh, if I could only do that easily! If only I’d been taught as a young person: how to make friends with my feelings!

I’ve been speaking to Coming of Age teens about finding the courage to stand up for what they believe and to speak from the heart, being authentic and vulnerable. I ask them to trust that others will see them for who they are and love them. This is easier to talk about than to actually do.  Let’s just say I’ve been encouraging courage. 

Encourage:  ~to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence:

Courage:   ~the ability to do something that frightens one.

                 ~strength in the face of pain or grief.

I wish, when I was younger, that I had more people in my life who were “encouraging courage” for me. Do you ever feel that way? I love that the parents of this community have made a choice to involve their children in our excellent UUCW programming. I know that these are some very lucky children and youth who get to partake. Talk about encouragement. We offer a vast array of it:

Religious Exploration- discovering the layers of the Unitarian Universalist principles and sources and how to live them out in the world.

 Lessons of Loss -discussing the reality of death and dying and the interconnectedness of knowing that universally, it is a rite of passage that we all will experience.

 Our Whole Lives (OWL)– our human sexuality education curricula is offered across the lifespan. This is a sexuality education program that fosters informed, responsible, and values-based decisions about sexual health and behavior. The courage to make good life decisions is fueled by knowledge.

Coming of Age– a year’s worth of introspective exercises coupled with mentored learning which challenge young teens to broaden their thinking while they hang onto their true selves as they rapidly begin their maturing years toward young adulthood.

 Youth Group- a beloved group of high school youth who plan, lead, work, volunteer, and have fun connecting together.

And, every one of these programs takes courage to participate in, because they are  interactive. Our children are not lined up in rows and asked to memorize. We actively discover things together. It’s a good way for us all to grow (including those who teach and mentor!). I know that it takes time and courage to practice speaking up and sharing what you believe and how you feel. We try to give many different opportunities to practice courage.

Being a part of a church community has given me courage that I never had much of as a young person. Here, I can trust people. I can speak in front of people. I can try my hand at a new skill. I can meet people who I wouldn’t otherwise get to meet-  like people who are experiencing homelessness or people who need help with keeping food on their tables. I can speak out about injustices with like-minded people by my side…amplifying my one small voice. All of these things take courage. Who can say that they would seek these experiences all on their own? I know a few, but not a majority and certainly not me. So, I’m thankful that this church community gives us so many opportunities to practice courage and love.

 I still find that I am a bit fearful of the unknown…even if it’s really non-scary things like: where will I find a parking space, or how should I be dressed, or will I be able to learn a new technology? I am so very fortunate that I have people in my world now that can encourage me. The reality is that the world is in turmoil for so many. It takes courage beyond anything I can compare to. So, being fearful that I may not find my way on a map is almost laughable, but also, it is real. We are here to encourage people who have come here as refugees from a war-torn country along with the person who is nervous about speaking to their family about their personal beliefs. It is all real. It is all needed. Little victories over one’s fears are not little.

We all need a courage-boost from time to time, as none of us are fearless. All of us, however, have experienced life differently and have had to go through some things. This gives us the ability to be able to stand next to and encourage another. It’s as simple as saying, “I was afraid too, but this is how it worked out for me.” To show empathy, and then to encourage, are things which we can do daily. I believe that the strongest lessons come from our fellow co-journeyers, our community, and our beautiful connections. The ability for us to weave this courageous, interconnected web, encourages me to be strong and brave as I move out into the world.

You Can Do It.

I Believe In You.

With Love,