The Cup of Fear and the Cup of Courage

Henri Nouwen’s book Can you Drink the Cup? was his last book before he went to the eternal repose of the Father in 1996. In the book, he gives an allegorical reflection on the cup drawn from the passage from Matthew 20:20-23:

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came with her sons to make a request to Jesus, and bowed low; and he said to her, ‘What is it that you want?’ She said to him, ‘Promise that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom.’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They replied, ‘We can’. He said to them, ‘Very well; you shall drink my cup, but as for seats at my right hand and my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted by my Father’.

The general premise of the book is that the cup is a spiritual representation of everything that comes along in life as we try to live it out to the fullest. In that cup all the things we often pursue and avoid come together without our control: sorrow and joy, delights and burdens, fears and courage. Living life to its fullest, as Nouwen maintains, involves a deep awareness of what’s in our own cup of life and lifting it, drinking, to the fullest.

Because only when we fully realize that the cup of life is not only a cup of sorrow but also a cup of joy will we be able to drink it.

We have all been drinking from our own cup, and enjoyed and reviled what comes out of it at the same time. Some have not been able to live as much as they liked to, because they dreaded some of the things that have come out of their cup.

At some point, our cup is a cup of fear. We run away from the reality of our lives with many distractions. Our world provides us with so many distractions, which does explain the rise of the entertainment industry. Some people just don’t want to be simply entertained. Along with it is an inclination to run away from whatever it is we fear confronting. Then there is the increase of phone screen consumption. The sight of a couple or a family sitting together but preoccupied with their own phones has been an unofficial social norm. Part of its rise may be whatever fear that comes along spending time with the actual person in front of you. Perhaps because some people fear something about the relationship?

I have my own share of fears. Growing up in a family broken by distance and wounded relationships, I have lived the rest of my life with my own share of fear in my cup. It is the fear of losing the meaningful connections with others I have in my life. The fear that one day when I wake up, the people I cherish the most will just walk away from my life. And certainly, I have lost people in my life in a sense that they were no longer as close to me as they used to be because of various circumstances.  All these years I have placed my worth on the connections I valued, and then insecurities arise when I feel that they are slowly distancing themselves away from me. In my younger years, I defined my relationships with important people in my life based on how much I spend time with them. The relationship ends as soon as that important person walks away at the end of the day. Not too long ago, I ran across the notion of attachment theory, and found out that all these fears over relationships stem from my style of attachment: anxious attachment style.

I am recovering from the relationships in my life that have been destroyed, that have been scarred because of my own unhealthy attachment patterns. In a deeper level, I am healing from my own woundedness because of the fear that has chained me all throughout my life, the fear that I am powerless in my relationships with others. Part of my healing is recognizing that I cannot do anything about this fear except through the grace of the Lord. The fear will still pour out from the cup as I drink it – day after day, moment after moment. At the same time, I know that courage will pour out of it as well – the courage to heal. Healing is not getting rid of the fear all at once, but having the courage to live meaningfully in spite of all the fears.

Our LORD drank the same cup as I am drinking now, and that is the basis of my personal relationship with Him. He dreaded drinking that fear of facing all the suffering, the betrayal, the abandonment, the cross, and death. Eventually, He did, because He was also aware that drinking that fear would be drinking courage at the same time: the courage to face suffering, betrayal, abandonment, cross, and death. That courage took Him beyond all that, wherein He achieved the goal for us His glory, the resurrection, and true healing.

That goal is the reason and the only reason I’ll continue drinking the cup, even when the dregs of fear continue to fall, because along the dregs are sweet taste of courage and deeper joy.

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