img-thingIn our family, we often offer encouragement by speaking these words to one another: “You are such a brave soldier.” It is our way of saying “I see your struggle, I see your brave, hard work and I’m here if you need help.”

My younger daughter introduced us to this phrase.  Growing up, she often processed out loud and needed lots of verbal encouragement. When she was little and had about worn me out one day with her worries, complaints, aches, pains and fears, I told her that I didn’t know what else I could do for her. Whatever it was, I couldn’t fix it. She said to me these words that have continued to be our mantra to one another:

“Mom, I just need you to tell me that I’m a brave soldier.”

As she grew up and faced down some pretty scary circumstances, I have said those words over and over and over until she has claimed them for herself. As a teenager and as an adult, she has continued to surround herself with people who are similarly willing to encourage and affirm her hard won courage. She understands the value of asking for what she needs from the people she loves. She is one of the bravest people I know. For her 19th birthday last week, I gave her a bracelet with the words “Be Brave” etched into a silver cuff – a concrete symbol of my words to her when I am too far away to speak the reminder out loud.  I wear an identical bracelet as a reminder that I too am capable of courage.

When I looked up the definition of brave just now, I found these words: “ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage. As in ‘a brave soldier’” I smiled when I saw the example they had chosen to illustrate and encapsulate the word brave: an example that has become so much a part of our family’s daily parlance.

I’ve been thinking more about real life “brave soldiers” this Memorial Day. Those who choose the path of military service are a worthy choice to serve as the epitome of bravery.  As hard as I try, I cannot even imagine the terror of being in a combat zone.  The courage required to willingly go into a place where you know that your life in in danger is extraordinary and laudable. I really don’t know if I could do what they do and I am so grateful for those who are willing to serve in that capacity for our greater good.  Similarly, when I think of sacrificial bravery, I think of those who serve as first responders in our communities: police, fire fighters, EMTs and other public servants on the front line.  I also think of missionaries and humanitarian workers who choose to go into precarious circumstances in order to care for hurting or disadvantaged people, most of whom they do not even know. All those who run towards danger, instead of away, are great examples of a type of bravery that serves as an example for the rest of us. Like my Jesus.

So, what about the rest of us who might not be called to serve on the front line?  What does it mean for us to be brave?  What can I learn from those whom we honor today on Memorial Day?

Being brave or having courage means something different to all of us. We would all likely agree that a person serving on a battlefield or fighting cancer would require a large degree of bravery. Sitting with the pain of losing someone you love requires great courage.  However, the need for bravery is not always that black and white. What might be terrifying or hard for some, might be easy for others.  When I think about the times I am called to be brave, I find that often the danger is more perception that reality. The scariest things for me are often the risk of being vulnerable and allowing myself to be seen as lacking in some way.  I am scared of the unknown, of loss, of change, of that which I can’t control, of making a fool of myself and of not being able to protect those I love. Is being brave in those circumstances even related to the kind of bravery required to lay down your life in a combat zone? What does this other kind of courage look like?

Whatever our fears, there is just no way to become a grownup without learning to be brave. And now that I’m 50, I’ve decided that I do after all want to be a grown up. So then, how DO we train ourselves to be braver? How do we teach our children to be brave?

Here are some things that seem to be important to the brave soldiers that I know and love:

  • Keep moving. Courage is not the absence of fear.  Courage is when we feel the fear and we keep marching in spite of the fear. Do the next right thing, one foot in front of the other. Sometimes being brave is just not giving up today.
  • Stick together.  Take care of each other. We are stronger together. No man left behind.  We belong to each other. There is power in community.
  • Remember your training.  You can’t control your circumstances, but you can control your response to your circumstances.  Have a plan and know what works.  Learn from the example of those who have come before you.
  • Follow orders.  Whose authority are you under?  As Bob Dylan says, you gotta serve somebody.  Soldiers learn early on that obedience is a necessary and non-negotiable component of brave service.  As a follower of Jesus, in a moment of fear, I remember His example and teaching and put myself safely under the covering of that authority.
  • Sacrifice and service are noble and worthy causes.  It means more to be brave when you are being brave for a cause bigger than yourself.  We all desire to live lives of meaning and purpose. Find your cause.

Over the next several weeks, I have invited a number of my writing friends to share with us their thoughts and stories about being brave. Along with their guest blog posts, I want to further unpack how we cultivate courage in our lives as we consider these questions together.

Would you be willing to help?

What makes you afraid, fearful, or nervous?  How do you find your brave? Who or what inspires you to be braver?