These days we hear a lot about “snowflakes.” These are young adults who must be protected from the least slight, whether real or imagined. Fortitude is the virtue that opposes this weakness.
In one word, fortitude is strength. But of what kind? Fortitude has two sides: courage and toughness. Courage is the strength that one needs in the face of fear. Toughness is the power called on in the face of pain.
Cowardice is not the absence of fear but doing the right thing even when afraid. “Softness” is giving up when the way seems too hard.
Fortitude is essential for everyone, and for believers, faithfulness to God’s will requires courage and toughness, sometimes to an heroic degree. So we all need the human virtue of fortitude, which God elevates by His grace for those who are baptized.
Here is a story about fortitude. How would you measure up? You’ll have a chance to rate yourself after.
Monica was in her early thirties and the mother of two young girls when Tim left them.
She had met Tim in college—he was five years older than she and had served in the U.S. Army in Iraq, maintaining vehicles. Over the last few years Tim had become more and more critical of her and was often moody and distant. Trying to understand him, she read books like “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus” and learned men like to go off into their physical or mental “caves,” so she tried to make allowances. She also knew that Tim had issues from his past, but didn’t everyone? She sure did. During her late teens her mom had suffered from breast cancer and succumbed when Monica was a college freshman. It was hard trying to explain to the girls where daddy was. For the first month of the separation, she cried herself to sleep and spent her days under a cloud of worry.
She heard that Tim had moved down to San Francisco and was “crashing” at a buddy’s apartment. He’d quit his job in Santa Rosa, so Monica and the girls were on their own. Monica didn’t know how they were going to get by. They didn’t have any savings and six thousand dollars in credit card debt. Monica had done administrative assistant work at an insurance company before the girls were born and had occasionally filled in afterwards. Monica got up the nerve and called her old boss at the firm. She was greatly relieved when he told her he could use her full time. Grace was in first grade and Monica was able to enroll Sara in full-day four-year-old preschool. Before and after school care helped a lot.
Monica told herself that many other women were in the same boat as she. She dragged herself out of bed in the morning and got ready for work. She made breakfast and packed lunches for the girls, got them up and dressed, took them to before-school care. She drove to work, put in her full day, and then shopped for groceries on the way back to school where she picked up the girls. Then she made dinner, helped Grace with her reading, did the laundry, washed the dishes and vacuumed, paid bills, put the girls to bed after helping them with their prayers. Finally, she crawled into her empty bed. She knew she had to be strong for the girls and be a mother and a father, but she didn’t know how.
From time to time Tim visited. The girls were overjoyed, especially since daddy took them fun places. Tim usually gave her some money, which helped. Once she asked him if he was going to divorce her. He said he didn’t know.
After eleven months, Tim wanted to reconcile and return. Even though Monica was angry with Tim, she very much wanted to say yes. Knowing she was taking a risk, she bravely set one condition: They would have to go to counseling. For a time Tim and Monica would go separately, then the two of them together, and finally the girls joining them for a few sessions if the counselor thought it a good idea.
He agreed and to his credit he kept his word. Two years after Tim had first left her, life finally seemed to have retuned to normal. Tim was working and got good benefits, Monica was able to cut back her hours at the office to devote more time to the home and the girls, and Tim had even started going to church with them on Sunday.
Then Monica faced the biggest crisis of her life. A routine physical exam led to further tests and Monica learned she had stage-three breast cancer. She was only thirty-five. Monica lost her mom at age fifty-five, so while it was always a worry in the back of Monica’s head, she thought she had years before there might be a danger. Monica went on a horrifying steep learning curve, aided by Internet resources. She was scared. She thought she had lost a lot when Tim left. Now she could lose everything. She might never see her girls grow up. She knew from her mom that she was facing a terrible ordeal at best: surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone injections, pain, weakness, and nausea. And death? Modern medicine couldn’t do everything.
So, Monica began the long road of cancer treatment. It was everything she expected but worse. The only good part of it was Tim. He was at her side and took up all the slack with the girls. The next two years were a time of physical pain, mental anxiety, and glimmers of hope. Now, the latest scan showed Monica “clear”—practically a miracle. They now have to watch and wait for Monica to be declared cancer free.
Fortitude Tried By Fire
Monica first faced the mental fears of whether she could support her girls and raise them on her own, the fear of how Tim would react to her insistence that they get counseling, and then the fear of what the cancer would bring, even an early death. She also endured the physical fear of the destruction of her body, not just by the cancer but also by the cancer treatments.
She also endured pain. First was the mental pain of loneliness and abandonment and witnessing the confusion of her innocent girls. Then there was the physical pain of working so hard, carrying an entire household on her back. This was followed by almost astonishing array of physical sufferings the treatments caused her.
If someone had awarded Monica the mother’s Medal of Honor for the courage and toughness she displayed in coping with Tim’s desertion and her subsequent illness, she probably would have humbly said, “I only did what I had to do. I had no choice.” That’s the kind of woman she was.
How Strong are You?
Now, if you care to, give yourself a quick quiz of how strong you think you are.
|Yes . . . . . No||Fortitude Self-assessment|
|5 4 3 2 1||I get out of bed on time in the morning.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I do the things I should even if nervous or afraid.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I don’t constantly complain about little annoyances.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I put up with discomfort and pain.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I force myself to do jobs that are “disgusting”.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I am trying to become physically fit and tough.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I keep going despite boredom.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I tell the truth even when it is going to get me in trouble.|
|5 4 3 2 1||Being tired or feeling lousy doesn’t keep me from working.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I take initiatives in the hope of attaining good things.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I pursue a goal or objective for the long term.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I have a healthy fear of danger and don’t take unnecessary risks.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I can forgive or change course when it is reasonable.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I have fortitude!|
If you would like to learn more about human virtues and ways to develop them in yourself and your family, a tremendous resource is Families of Character.