A few weeks ago, while deep in conversation, a dear friend told me, “When I think of you, I think of bravery. I think of someone who faces the unknown without fear or hesitation.”
It was taken aback. It certainly wasn’t out of character for this friend to speak encouragement into my life, but her description of me felt out sync with my own description of myself.
I certainly wanted to be.
And maybe I used to be.
But now? Not now.
Truth be told, I felt the farthest thing from brave.
In that moment, all I could see were the parts of my story that felt broken and laced with disappointment. All I could see was the longer-and-harder-than-I-could-have-imagined process of grieving the loss of my Dad in January. I saw my inability to recover fully from a chronic running injury and all the times I had tried with optimism and failed. I saw my struggling to make ends meet financially and the burden of decisions that I didn’t want to face alone. I saw my exhaustion. And the ways that I felt like I was just scraping by in my schooling instead of thriving or contributing the quality of work I expected of myself.
I knew there were places in there that Jesus had stilled my previously restless heart in the best possible way. I knew there were places in the deepest aspects of those circumstances that had quieted my once full-speed ahead approach to life that had falsely crafted my identity almost entirely around what I could accomplish and do. I knew that the process of letting go and the giving into the unknown was part of the journey of growing in what it meant to crash more and more on Jesus. And I knew that somehow, all of the brokenness was actually really beautiful.
I knew that. And yet sometimes I felt as if I could barely recognize the version of me I was living in.
My once hope-filled casting vision-for-the-future had turned into a fight-for-joy-survival-mode. Running forward turned into standstill and inching forward. I felt like I was treading water and hoping for the day when I’d have open water again and be able to swim. I just wanted to get through the day and the week with my eyes on Jesus. I just wanted to survive the night season with my heart and faith intact.
So, when my friend told me I was brave, it took a long time for me to wrap my head around those words. I realized that I too long incorrectly thought of bravery as action. In my grieving, I chastised myself for my inability to take action and move forward. Circumstances threatened to convince me that rest and grieving and being still and saying “no” or “not yet” were the antithesis of bravery, instead of the truest and most raw place where bravery could be made manifest.
And, so I’m taking it back. I’m rethinking and reclaiming the idea of bravery.
Being brave doesn’t necessarily say, “I’ve got this” with bold self-determination. Being brave isn’t running forward with single-minded focus and blinders to all obstacles. Being brave isn’t masking hurt or messiness or places of pain in the pursuit of something “better.”
In fact, maybe the truest form of bravery is the exact opposite. Maybe the truest bravery is found in a willingness to admit that we need time and space to process and to rest and refocus. Or to actually take God seriously when He tells us to be still, to rest, and to wait on Him.
Sometimes the bravest thing we can do is to simply show up and keep showing up in the midst of our everyday lives and all the joy-filled and heart-breaking twists and turns they award us. Maybe the bravest thing we can do is to admit, “I don’t know if I can do this, but I’m still going to try.” And if I don’t have the strength today, I will try again tomorrow.
And, sometimes bravery does emerge in action. It reveals itself in the progression from the contemplation stage to the action stage. It’s found in the whispers that you’re stronger than you think and capable of more than you currently imagine, so don’t be afraid to try. Sometimes bravery is choosing to walk towards something when the outcome is completely unknown (which, is always).
Being brave is always choosing to risk. And it’s choosing to risk again and again and again.
Bravery is one of those pesky things that emerges in both doing and resting; in the staying-put and in the going-out; in the dreaming and planning and in the living-in-the-right-now; in the picking-up and the letting-go. It exists in the whole spectrum of life and thought and emotion. Sometimes to be brave is to dismantle the idol of productivity. And sometimes it’s to confront a stronghold of laziness or comfort or doubt. And often, it’s both things in the space of the same day. Because, in its truest sense, bravery seems to be far more about the posture of our hearts than the ambition of our minds or the movement of our feet.
Jesus never asks us to be successful as our culture/society would define such a concept. He asks that we be obedient – and that our obedience be fueled by our love for Him and flow out of an understanding of His love for us. He asks us to taste and see of His goodness. He asks us to be still and to rest in His sufficiency. He asks us to seek his face, savour his goodness, and to be His love to those around us.
And, the rest, it would seem, is up to us.
We can dream boldly and live fully and work hard and study deeply and love extravagantly with freedom and boldness from that place, just so long as we constantly and continually examine the posture of our hearts throughout the process.
In the past year for me, bravery has made itself known in the surrender of dreams and the letting go of people I love. It’s emerged in in the rawness and growth of crashing on the goodness of Jesus in the midst of grief and pain and loss. It’s been revealed in the showing up and the willingness to keep going and keep trying especially when I felt like I had nothing to offer. It’s been redefined to encompass the embrace of imperfection instead of just being the action-fueled response and attempted validation to where I fall short.
And then, with His goodness and impeccable timing, God has been whispering that, even in this space and season, it’s time again to dream. He’s been whispering that it’s time again to risk and to take steps forward that are both scary and exciting.
It's embracing the shaky optimism that, success uncertain, it’s still worth trying.
I have no idea what will happen, but that's part of the adventure. I know, in an entirely non-cliche and deeply tangible way that God goes before me and is always with me, so I have nothing to lose. So, even in the unknown, even in the fear and doubt, and even in the pain and loss, the process of growing and giving up control and clinging to Jesus itself is worth it.
I'm (re)claiming bravery. And (re)casting vision for the process of rawness and dreaming and hope. Want to join me?
[originally written for TWU Impact.]