A few weeks ago I attended a conference in Tennessee.
Throughout the weekend, as I told my story of loss, tragedy, excitement and adventure, I heard one particular refrain over and over again: “you’re so brave.”
Every time someone said this, I fought the urge to scoff.
I’ve never considered myself brave.
I cry in fear almost every time I get on an international flight. Often I have to force myself to explore, rather than staying in my room watching Netflix under the covers, which is generally what I’d prefer to do. I didn’t ask for the challenges I’ve experienced in my life; I dealt with them as they came because I had no other choice.
Yet the more I think about it, the more I think that’s exactly what bravery is.
One dictionary definition of courage is “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.”
I read that definition over and over, and kept getting hung up on one bit of it: without fear.
Is it really courage to do something that causes you no anxiety? Is an action truly brave if no fear is involved? I drive a car every day; although it is dangerous, I feel no fear. Does that make me brave?
I submit that it does not.
On the other hand, if I had an intense fear of being in confined metal spaces, and yet still managed to drive every day, that would make me brave. It’s the presence of fear itself – and the conquering of it – that makes us brave.
Bravery is when one does something IN SPITE of fear, not in the absence of it.
Most people are more than willing to acknowledge that the brave actions of others involve an implicit amount of underlying fear. At the same time, however, they often think their own fear disqualifies them from being brave.
I am certainly one of those people.
This journey of healing and vulnerability I’ve been on has been a challenging, often painful one. It has been one where God has repeatedly ripped out the infested scar tissue of my deeply felt wounds so that He could bring them to the surface and heal them. I have wept, raged, and cursed at the air. I have begged for the healing process to stop, for my wounds to become buried again as a temporary release from the pain.
It’s been so hard, so scary. But I’ve pushed on. By that definition, I have been brave.
Rather than shrugging off compliments on my persistence, I’m choosing to accept them. To own up to the fact that yes, my life lately has been hard and yes, I’ve been brave for pushing through.
The next time someone calls you brave, own it! The more fear you felt, the better.