what it means to be brave.

These days “brave” seems to be one of my top vocabulary words. I tell other people they are brave. I’m trying to be brave. People tell me I’m brave. The more I’m in transition, the more I feel like I learn about courage and what being brave means. I don’t feel like I have much figured out, honestly. Transition has a way of taking what you thought you knew and turning it on its head. But here are the few nuggets on bravery I’m holding onto today.

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Courage doesn’t always look the same. In this last season, being brave meant walking away from a job I loved dearly without a backup plan. My husband and I didn’t know what we were doing or where we were going. We had a general direction and calling from the Lord without any of the specifics. It is scary to walk away from certainty and health insurance and safe people, with only the hope that the Lord will provide something different and better for your next season. It is scary to give away most of your furniture and hope that there will be something waiting for you on the other side of the country. It is scary when it isn’t just you anymore, but you and your husband, plus there’s a sweet one-year-old who depends on you to take care of her. For this season, being brave was trusting the Lord to provide for us while I turned in my resignation letter for a job and people I loved.

Ironically, in a different season, being brave meant NOT walking away from a job. The year after I graduated from nursing school, I worked as an oncology nurse and felt myself burning out fast. Less than a year after starting, I felt the Lord offer me permission to pursue another direction. I filled out job applications like it was my job, spending hours on my days off to research opportunities, fill out forms and answer essay questions. I applied to fifty different jobs all over the country as well as  several grad programs. I was ready for a change, and was grateful for the Lord’s guidance in pursuing something different. In the midst of those hopes and dreams, I wrote my two-weeks-notice letter. Every week, I would change the date on it and print it out, ready to hand it in. I would often take it to work with me, tucked in next to my lunch and stethoscope. Sometimes I would ask the Lord if I could turn it in, as an act of faith. But I distinctly remember the Lord tell my heart that the bigger act of faith would be to stay where it was hard. Being brave wasn’t turning in the letter without a back-up plan. Being brave was getting up every day for work, even when I didn’t feel like going in. Being brave was staying at my job until Jesus told me otherwise.

I actually got told quite a bit that I was brave once I left my job, as a new job took me across the country where I had never been before. It always felt funny to me to be told that I was brave for that, when deep down, I think I had a sense that the real act of bravery was the unseen act of faithfully going to work when I didn’t want to. There was still courage in moving far away from my family, but I think the bigger act of courage in that season was staying where I didn’t want to and waiting for the Lord to move. 

I’m also learning that courage doesn’t always feel the same. Sometimes there’s the thrill of jumping, the sense of high risk and high reward that comes with doing something brave. There’ve been times in my life with the Lord has told my heart that I’m choosing a better story by being brave. It doesn’t necessarily look like it from where I’m standing at the moment, but it is almost exciting to think about being part of something bigger than myself with my small act of courage. It is a little thrilling to think that my small actions and decisions could be making an impact beyond what I can see. Being brave is almost fun when you get to see the payoff of your choice soon. I think my move post-nursing, across the country for a job I couldn’t wait for was like that. There was plenty of unknown, but it was the exciting kind.

But there’s also times with being brave feels weak and fragile and terrible. Sometimes being brave means admitting you can’t do something and need help. Sometimes being brave is wiping away your tears and letting people see you in a hot-mess state. Sometimes being brave is asking other people to pray for you, because your heart is so weary and you need others to take you to Jesus. Sometimes being brave is saying what you need, even if what you need feels desperate and pathetic. (It rarely is actually desperate and pathetic, but it can certainly feel that way.) Sometimes being brave means simply being present in the good moments as well as the difficult ones. I’m finding that these days being brave often includes crying when I need to cry, but also letting myself enjoy the gifts of a good meal or my baby laughing or date night at the library.

Courage isn’t a one time thing. Sometimes I wish I could just choose bravery once and for all, and be done with it. But it is rarely like that in the Christian life. Trusting the Lord is something we have to do every day, often all throughout the day. Courage doesn’t happen just once, but is something we must continually choose as we lean into the Lord. I can think of plenty of times I’ve been brave in my life. But those don’t make me a woman of courage if I suddenly stop being brave, and shell up in safety and self-protectedness. I know of couples who were married for twenty or thirty years, only to have an affair later in life. Their faithfulness prior to the affair doesn’t cancel out what they’ve done now. Their lives become marked by their unfaithfulness. Even with repentance and redemption, those scars will remain. As I think about who I want to be, I know I want to be someone who trusted the Lord my whole life, who chose courage and trust consistently, not just for x amount of years. If courage was a one time thing, I don’t think it would change us. I don’t think it would have the power to make us into people who can stand up to injustice or who can have a deep impact on others.

I read this the other day in Streams in the Desert, and it stuck with me. “The best things in life come out of wounding…It is the broken heart that pleases God…you must be content to pay the price of a costly education.” (Streams in the Desert, August 15) I think this is part of what being brave is; I think it is part of the price of a costly education from the Lord. In his article, “The Rest of Time,” Mark Buchanan says, “God’s school is not like most. It’s not regimented, age-adjusted, fixed in its curriculum. The classroom is life itself, the curriculum all life’s demands and interruptions and tedium, its surprises and disappointments…Pay attention to how God is afoot in the mystery of each moment, in its mad rush or maddening plod.” God is writing a story that we are invited to be part of. Courage isn’t a one time thing because the story doesn’t just have one sentence or a good opening line. A good story has ups and downs, conflict and tensions, resolution and redemption. To be part of a good story, we must be willing to have courage again and again.

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I desperately crave a road map, a guide, a step-by-step process for what it means to be brave. I want to have specific instructions for how to live a good story. What I’m learning about being brave is that none of those are included. In fact, the less I know, the more bravery there seems to be.  Courage doesn’t necessarily look or feel the same. I don’t just get to select courage once, but again and again and again. As much as this stretches me and challenges me and quite honestly, I hate it, I also see (on my good days, anyway) how this is what is best for me. The Lord is in this kind of story. We don’t follow “a tame lion. He’s not safe but he’s good.” (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.)  He permits pain, not because he doesn’t love us, but because he does. Real courage is only possible because we’re loved. The Lord loves us enough to invite us into a story that is bigger and more wonderful than we could imagine. Will we have the courage to say yes?

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