Ever since I was Little-Overly-Enthusiastic-Bowl-Cut-Amy, I’ve always dreamed of being brave, and I had a very specific image of what that meant. I remember daydreaming as a first grader about how, if the McDonalds PlayPlace in front of me were to spontaneously burst into flames, I would heroically march up those weird climbing platforms while everyone else was fleeing and drag the other kids to safety.
Those were the days.
Years went by. I would like to tell you that I’ve abandoned all dramatic dreams of heroics, but that’s not quite true.
That said, I’ve realized something really important: courage doesn’t always look like what I thought it would.
Sometimes it’s quiet and simple and not accompanied by sirens, breaking news updates, or a dramatic, fiery sacrifice. Every time I look around me, I see men and women who are the heroes I always wanted to imitate.
I’ve learned it takes courage to let go of offenses and resentment and the need to be right. To apologize first and linger a little longer than others when it’s hard. To—even when you do walk away from something or someone—seek peace and decide to live graciously. It might be a teeth-gritted, deliberately-chosen graciousness, but that doesn’t make it any less courageous.
It takes bravery to dream small and choose priorities that others don’t understand. To give to those who can’t give back and dispense kindness with every step like a leaky watering can, without looking back to decide if the flowers or weeds drinking it in deserve it.
It takes a long and faithful strength to go unseen and unapplauded through a daily routine of sacrifice—whether as a parent or a caregiver or someone in ministry. To work hard in a boring job or step in as peacemaker over and over again or endure unjust criticism without becoming bitter.
I’ve seen you. I want to be like you.
And I know what’s holding me back.
The brave life is the generous life. Why? Because sure, one opposite of generosity is selfishness, but the deeper opposite, one or two Russian dolls out of view, is fear.
Have you noticed? We aren’t often generous because we’re afraid of not having enough, but we’re also afraid of losing our sense of control and security, afraid that we will give and never be given to, afraid that God really hasn’t or won’t provide.
And I’m not thinking here of how we spend our money, although I guess that applies too. I’m thinking of the fear we’ve attached to giving time, forgiveness, emotional energy, acts of service, even simple interest in others’ lives. I think, “That will take too much out of me,” because I wonder if I’ll ever be filled back up. Or I keep a detailed mental spreadsheet of investments and expenditures to determine whether someone is worth my care or even attention. Or I decide it’s not worth the chance of rejection.
I don’t live in an openhearted way because I am not brave.
Maybe you noticed, but the kind of bravery I’m talking about is the opposite of the kind you usually hear about in inspirational quotes like this one:
The focus of courage here is making your life count, discovering the world, and living a full life. Those things aren’t bad. But they’re also don’t take much bravery, at least for me, because they just take what I want to do already—be awesome and have everyone realize I’m awesome—and tell me to go ahead and take some risks to get there. When I’d argue that it really takes courage to be selfless instead.
Don’t get me wrong; there’s a place for healthy boundaries and necessary distance from harmful people. But…I’m not usually at that place. The lines I’m drawing to keep some conversations or even people away aren’t often to protect my mental or emotional health, they’re to protect my comfort.
Generosity doesn’t look like foolish overspending or blind dedication or an endless, exhausting, and excessive focus on others. I read The Great Divorce eight years ago now, and there are only two parts I vividly remember. One is the character described as:
Which is hilarious and vivid and 100% someone I could become if I’m not careful, friendship-tackling people as cases and causes in my stuffed-and-mounted collection of good deeds, serving for the attention and affirmation, loving to be loved in return. Halfhearted bravery that’s really just the kind of selfishness you can put in a display case.
That’s not what I’m talking about here. What I want to become is the kind of woman who sees her fear and calls it out for what it is: a lack of faith in the God who “gives generously without finding fault.” That verse was talking specifically about God giving wisdom to those who ask, but God also gives rest, unconditional love, forgiveness, and abundant life. He’s never going to run out. And because of that, neither will I.
Time to be brave.