The ongoing coronavirus epidemic and the resulting lockdowns have placed us under new pressures and brought new qualities to light. The quality I’d like to discuss today is fortitude.
The entire Book of Job is a lesson in fortitude. It seems extremely relevant today, with many suffering from health issues and questioning their faith.
Fortitude can’t be bought, whether the shops are open or not. You can’t outsource it to a pharmaceutical company. You must develop it in-house.
What is fortitude?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines fortitude as courage shown by somebody who is suffering great pain or facing great difficulties. As an example, it gives “she endured her illness with great fortitude.”
Yet fortitude isn’t courage. Neither is it endurance. It’s a mix of the two. Yet it has an added dimension, which I want to focus on in this blog. It’s to do with the root of the word, ‘fort’. Fort comes from the Latin fortis, meaning “strong, mighty; firm, steadfast; brave, spirited.”
Steadfast and spirited are the key qualities. The fortitude I see is epitomised by this evocative image of a yak by Ola Dybul. This animal endures harsh conditions and carries heavy burdens. Yet it doesn’t panic, lash out mindlessly, rebel pointlessly against conditions outside its control.
It is steadfast and spirited. It is unbowed. “He was painfully abused, but he did not complain. He was silent like a lamb being led to the butcher, as quiet as a sheep having its wool cut off.” (Isaiah 53:7)
When our life is moving ahead, when we have progress and self-directed change, we don’t need fortitude. We need fortitude when life brings us to a halt—a stay in hospital, a forced pause due to a breakdown in travel arrangements, a global pandemic lockdown.
Fortitude is more than endurance and resilience. To me, it involves a strength of spirit, a glass-half-empty outlook. Right now, I am at a standstill. I won’t always be. Breathe. Rest and relax. Prepare for the next stage of the journey.
Fortitude is the ability to withstand great pressures and a complete absence of forward movement. Even when courage fails. When faith fails. When you don’t have an ounce of intent left in the tank.
A spark that doesn’t go out
When you are tired beyond all belief. You’re surrounded by braying voices and panicked herds of emotionally triggered people. When the light at the end of the tunnel casts a baleful glare on a post-pandemic world of massive loss of personal freedoms.
Yet there is a spark that doesn’t go out. The spark in the eyes of a yak in a howling snowstorm. It trusts that it’ll find its way to food and shelter at the dimming of the day.
This fortitude is about recognising that there’s a time for forward movement and it isn’t now. Nothing stays static in the universe for long. Change is the only constant. And just as no one predicted the pandemic and its effects, no one can predict the next roll of the cosmic dice.
The best use of this time of spirited steadfastness is to improve emotional responsibility. The more you take care of your emotional wounds, the more pressure you can withstand and the less triggered you are by outside events.
The news is littered with examples of people who’ve ‘lost it’ during the pandemic and suffered accordingly. Remember the Australian women fighting over toilet paper way back when lockdowns began in March 2020? Where was their spirited steadfastness? Where was their fortitude? They didn’t have enough to withstand the pressure.
Fortitude can’t be bought, whether the shops are open or not. You can’t outsource it to a pharmaceutical company. You must develop it in-house. It’s a key quality in these times.
As James 5:11 reminds us, the rewards will come. “We count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.”