To have courage for whatever comes in life—everything lies in that. ~Mother Theresa

Courage helps us digest reality for breakfast and keep it down, converting it into vital energy and momentum.  It helps us overcome obstacles that might otherwise halt us.  Courage is essential to meaningful attainment and to our integrity, the definition of which must expand if we want to help our children achieve the real thing.

All good-willed parents want their kids to obtain healthy and honorable achievement, but currently we’re handcuffing them with nice-sounding intentions that dissipate when applied to the real world.  Good behavior alone won’t fly; it was never designed to.  We need to guide our children to achievement not fulfilled upon the broken backs of others—which leaves in its wake resentment, bitterness, and cynicism—but instead toward achievement that’s nourishing for themselves and others.  This is especially relevant in America, a nation awash in ambition, much of which is good, some of which is bad.  It takes courage to follow integrity because that often means taking the longer and harder route.

When a person possesses integrity, it means far more than whether or not she swore when she stubbed her toe on the leg of her desk.  Explains Dr. Henry Cloud:

When we talk about integrity, we are talking about being a whole person, an integrated person, with all of our different parts working well and delivering the functions that they were designed to deliver.  It is about wholeness and effectiveness as people.  It truly is “running on all cylinders.”

Our kids becoming effective people means that as children they begin to learn what it takes to be successful, whole, and integrated, as opposed to merely following traditions, fads, homilies, and platitudes.  Otherwise they’re in trouble—remember, too much sweetness and softness, too little wisdom and discernment turns children into victims, both now and later.  Warns Cloud,

You have known people who love, for example, without the benefit of judgment and reality testing….Strengths turn into weaknesses without the other parts of a person to balance them out.  In fact, historically, the word diabolical actually means “to compartmentalize.”  Things go “bad” when they are out of balance and integration.  The person of “integrity” is a person of balanced integration of all that character affords.

Buildings lack structural integrity when they’re unable to carry their load in the way they were designed to provide shelter, and even inspiration.  We lack integrity in the same way when our moral backbone, courage-unfortified, isn’t strong enough to carry the weight of our own lives and when we lack sufficient power to donate our strength to others in need, providing protection and inspiration.

Helping our children obtain the courage necessary to produce moral integrity is so much more than turning them into what Thomas Merton called “little morality projects” defined exclusively by avoiding sin.  We should avoid sin, in part, so that we move closer to God’s bonfire blessing of an abundant and eternal life—this is the God-centered life He desires for everyone made in His image.  But avoiding sin is just part of this God-glorifying journey; it’s not the journey itself.  Abundant living is the journey. A rich life is the peak toward which we want to guide our children, and our instruction should include the steps, skills and virtues necessary to reach the top.

Once more, our lives lack integrity when they lack wholeness and balance.  Our current definition of wholeness as personal piety is a major contributor to this sincere but precarious imbalance.  Our children need wisdom and its corresponding virtues (e.g., shrewdness and ingenuity) in order to find this balance, and the courage it takes to graft wisdom into their lives.