What is Spiritual Courage?

Compiled and written by Lisa and Jennifer:

This will be the sixth in the “Six Types of Courage” that we will explore in-depth. We hope you’ve already had the chance to read over our page called “The Six Types of Courage” for a brief overview of our definitions.  The examples we give for each type of courage may apply to your children and/or to you please keep in mind, when you are reading this post, that some of these examples may involve taking “baby steps” on your way to spiritual courage!  Every step towards courage is both worthwhile and important. 

Spiritual Courage

“This is my simple religion.  There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy.  Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”— His Holiness the Dalai Lama

“Here is a test to find whether your purpose in life is finished: if you are alive, it isn’t.”— Richard Bach

Spiritual courage fortifies us as we ask questions about purpose and meaning.  Of course many people find the foundations of this courage in an organized religion, but there are also other ways to develop spiritual courage.  Spiritual courage means being available to the deepest questions about why we are here, what is my life for,  do I have a purpose?  These are profound existential questions and can be quite frightening, which suggests why fundamentalism of all kinds can gain mastery over us;  thus we yearn for definite answers to these questions and are attracted to ideologies that offer  resolution to our uncertainty.  Spiritual courage means accepting that you are unlikely to find the answers, but asking them anyway.  We all must call upon our spiritual courage when we consider our own mortality. Spiritual courage means opening ourselves up to our own vulnerability and the mysteries of life.

For inspiring true stories, ways to recognize and coach spiritual courage in ourselves and our children…READ ON!
Spiritual courage allows us to encounter people of different religious faiths and spiritual traditions without judgment.  Remember the photos from the Egyptian revolution earlier this year, when Christians made a protective cordon around Muslims during prayer?  That looks like spiritual courage to us.

This video from TED.com is Matthieu Ricard, sometimes called “The Happiest Man in the World.”  It’s about twenty minutes long.  If you don’t have time for it now, come back later.  It’s well worth it.

  • attending religious festivals and listening to stories from faith traditions other than your own
  • talking with children openly and honestly about death
  • having friendships with people from faith traditions other than your own
  • for parents, making sure you have written a will,  arranged legal guardianship for your children in the event of your death, as well as writing advance directives for medical emergencies
  • giving your children the option to pursue a religious practice or attend a youth group, even if you don’t attend or practice regularly
  • making time to pray, meditate, or do charitable work
  • holding a funeral for a pet 
  • letting go of the need to control everything in life
  • reaching out in times of need and asking for help—discovering that there are, in fact,  lots of resources in your community
  • building meaningful rituals into your daily life, such as quiet contemplation with a cup of tea, or a walk in the woods with your kids

Lack of spiritual courage looks like:

  • making judgments based on the religious identification of others  
  • refusing to try attending a religious service even when your child invites you or expresses interest in religion
  • refusing to attend someone’s wedding, funeral or other rite of passage because of religious intolerance
  • unwilling to question your strongly-held beliefs
  • unwilling to plan for your own death
  • not respecting the wishes of a loved one who is faced with a life-threatening diagnosis
  • unwilling to accept that spirituality can exist outside the walls of a religious institution 
  • unwilling to make a values inventory
  • not walking the talk
  • lack of respect for others, their beliefs, their culture, and the environment


Spiritual courage sounds like:

  • “May I go to your church/temple/mosque with you some time?”
  • “What do you believe?”
  • “That’s not a belief I’m familiar with.  Can you tell me more about that?”
  • “I have questions.”
  • “I want to make a difference with my life.”
  • “What happens to us after we die, Mommy?”
  • “Can I say grace tonight, Dad?”
  • “I’m grateful for ___________.”
  • “Before I die, I want to __________.”
  • “Let’s talk about who we’d like to raise our kids if we die whilst they are still young.”

Lack of spiritual courage sounds like:

  • “What difference does it make anyway?”
  • “They are evil.”
  • “Don’t think about such morbid things!”
  • “All religions breed fanatics!!”
  • “Religion in the opiate of the masses.”
  • “You really believe that stuff?”
  • “Sounds like some kind of a cult!”
  • “I can’t talk to you about that because you’re not a member of my church/mosque/synagogue.”
  • “I did it in the name of ___________”
  • “I give up.”

Grab Some Lion’s Whiskers!
Here are some tips for developing spiritual courage for you and your kids

  • read stories from all world religions and encourage your children to ask questions and find similarities from one culture to another
  • read at least a bit of the Koran, the Bible, Talmudic teachings, Buddhist teachings, etc.  
  • if you’ve never been to a Passover seder, ask a Jewish friend to include you next time; if you’ve never been to a baptism, ask a Christian friend to include you; by connecting respectfully with friends from faiths other than your own, you encourage them and yourself
  • ask the important questions before it’s too late!
  • surround yourself and your children with beauty
  • take a walk in nature; wake up early enough to catch a sunrise; on a night walk, stop and simply stare at the stars; take a deep breath in the open air
  • hang famous and not so famous artwork—especially your children’s, and not just on the fridge
  • play Classical as well as Top 40 music 
  • stop and smell the flowers
  • try a yoga class—even see if there is one for kids in your community
  • investigate “alternative” spiritual practices such as meditation or sweat lodge with an open mind
  • work in the garden together, it’s a wonderful way to experience the circle of life

Posts related to spiritual courage: Courage as an Antidote to Fear, Getting to the Heart of Courage,
The Flyaway Lake

What are your ideas about spiritual courage, your parenting tips to promote it with kids, or your favorite spiritual courage story (fiction or non-fiction)?  We’d love to hear from you!

One thought on “What is Spiritual Courage?

  1. Anonymous

    I was a youth group counselor and chaperone for a mission trip to another city.On Sunday, all of the kids in our group were attending services at the church that was sponsoring our mission trip.One young man in our group however, was Catholic and desperately wanted to attend Mass at another church in this city.No one was willing to take him, so I volunteered.As we drove to a Catholic church, he was the navigator, and I asked him if I needed to wait in the van for him, or could I join him, as I had not attended a Catholic Mass before.He smiled a bright grin and said I was welcome to join him in the pew, just that I could not take Communion.I had No idea that we would kneel and sit and kneel and sit so much !!!It was exhilerating however, to listen to the chanting and prayers, to look at the ornate artistry in the decorations, and to learn something new for me.When I would make a mistake, he would just gently touch my knee and smile, shake his head slightly and at one point, he leaned over and whispered, "just follow me" … To this day, I am grateful I was honored to spend that time with him.He was near tears as we headed back to the sponsor church.I asked why.He simply said, for a Catholic – Mass is a sacred and necessary part of every week. He felt so relieved that someone was willing to take him, and I felt so blessed to have been able to.


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