“The bravest thing you an do when you are not brave is to profess courage and act accordingly” – Corra Harris
A few weeks ago, while I wasn’t sleeping in the middle of the night, I came up with a Christmas list. With big changes looming in my not so distant future, the things I found myself most deeply wanting were intangibles and I summed them up in three words: peace, proximity, and possibility.
I was wishing for peace in heart and mind and family and in our conflict-ridden denomination. I was wishing for proximity to people I love and communities of support wherever I go next. And I was wishing for possibility in both my personal and professional life. In a broader sense, I was thinking about how much I want real peace, greater proximity, and new possibility with all these people I love and these communities that I’ma part of and which are a part of me—not just between me and them, but between each other.
I was thinking about this idea Sunday before last as I sat in worship at the church that had raised me. I watched the faces of people who I’d known for years and the communal life of this congregation whom I had left behind when I came out out of fear that they would reject me. I thought about the amazing family of LGBTQ people and allies I’ve come to known since coming out. I thought of my seminary community and new church community. I thought of how I love them all and how impossible it seems that they could not all love or care for one another when I love them each so much.
As I was thinking about how my love binds these communities together (even if they don’t know or like it), it occurred to me how much more true that is of God’s love and something suddenly became so apparent to me that I was embarrassed not to have realized it before. These things—peace, proximity, and possibility—were not things God needed me to pray for. The Spirit was already at work in these efforts in whatever capacity the Spirit desired to be at work for them.
What I was looking for, really, was a sense of participation in this holy work. For that, I needed something I was afraid to ask for because I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t already have it: courage. I talk a lot about courage. It is the virtue that has always appealed to me more than any other. I’ve often thought I had a lot of courage because I do crazy things like move 1000 miles away from home by myself or travel all over the world or ask strangers for jobs or speak truth to a room full of potentially hostile strangers. But the truth is—these things don’t really scare me the way they might scare others. I think this might have given me (and others) the impression that I am brave. I even said as much on Facebook a few weeks ago.
But here’s my confession: I am not really brave. I am not brave at all. What I am, I have realized, is strong. I have dealt with my fair share of adversity and I have survived over and over—enough to know that I am very strong. But the sort of strength I know myself to have is all about holding on. Courage, I think, is about how much you’re willing to let go. How much you’re willing to risk for what you want or believe in. The truth is I am not very good at facing my fears. I go to shameful lengths to avoid it. I let it keep me silent, and invisible, and diminished at times when it is really important not to be.
When it comes to the fact that I will probably never skydive—I’m not too troubled by my cowardice. But much more often than that, my lack of courage means that I hide myself from those I love. I stay quiet when everything inside of me knows I should speak. I permit injustices that I might not have the power to prevent, but that I could at least name and call attention to if I were not silenced by my own fear. Too often, my anxieties and fears own me. I want to stop giving them that power.
I am not interested, really, in head-long, daredevil dives. I am, however, interested in real, deep love of myself and others and of really seeking justice. I am desperate for the kind of courage that allows you to let someone in, to be vulnerable, to name what you believe even when it’s hard, to say the thing that’s on your heart, to let go of needing others’ approval, to screw up sometimes in the name of trying to be better, to forgive, to give up control so you can become a part of the Greater Work and let the wonders of life unfold around you.
And I have not yet found myself brave enough for any of these things. So this Christmas, I have one wish. I want it more than that purse at Target, or a cushy job post-graduation, or even the acceptance of my family: I wish for courage. I wish for the courage to love and be loved, to see and be seen, to grow, and to act in the name of what is right. I wish for the courage to trust and have faith and participate in the work that I know that God is doing in this world for good. I wish for Christ-like courage.
So I have decided on a project for this coming year in hopes that it will help me discover the capacity for courage within me. I am going in search of my braver self. I am going to try to live—for the next year (2014)—by the mantra “do one thing everyday that scares you.” Not just silly things, either, but things that I hope will lead to love and justice. I’m going to see what happens. I’m hoping that I discover that I’m brave after all or at least that I can learn how to be. I hope that it leads to more good than bad, but that I’m willing to risk it either way. I hope that I find the courage to be really seen, and that I find out there are people who love what they see and that I’m okay with the ones who don’t because I’ll love what I see. I hope I become more loving and more just. I hope that I become more faithful.
But more than anything, when it comes to love and justice, I just want to be brave.
I don’t know how or even if I can do this. Even trying when I could so easily fail terrifies me… which makes me think that—when it comes to finding courage—this is the perfect place to start.
Want to support me? Help me think of ways I can practice courage daily. And share moments when you’ve been brave, or things you want to be brave enough for. Share in the comments below. I think it’ll encourage me on the hard days.