There’s no such thing as easy courage.
If there were, it wouldn’t be considered courage at all.
This may seem like an obvious statement, but it wasn’t obvious to me for a long time. In my mind, courage and bravery came easier to others than it ever would for me.
I would watch people give speeches, or perform, or jump out of airplanes, or speak out against oppression (even when their lives were at stake), or go to war, seemingly fearless and think to myself, “Well, I could never do that. I’m just not brave enough.”
On a Sunday morning, a few months ago, I was sitting in my living room listening to a sermon. Due to Covid, church happens in my living room most Sundays still. The message topic was…courage.
At one point in the message, the Pastor (who happens to be my dad) said, “We are not easily courageous. Never think that courage comes easy, but never give yourself the excuse that it comes easy for others.”
He talked about some of the Bible’s greatest heroes like Moses, Esther and Jeremiah. These people went on to do incredibly brave and courageous things, but I had forgotten how scared they were when God called them to be brave. I had forgotten that, for many of them, it was a slow process, one in which courage didn’t come naturally to them at all.
Moses had a stutter and dreaded public speaking, yet he went on to lead the people of Israel out of slavery, speaking in front of thousands of them daily. Esther didn’t want to speak up, but Mordecai warned her of the danger of her silence, and she listened to him and risked her life by going before the king. I imagine her knees were shaking beneath her royal gown. Jeremiah didn’t want to follow God’s call and be the bearer of bad news (who can blame him) and told God he was far too young to be taken seriously. Elijah basically had a mental breakdown and wanted to die, even after he had experienced God’s awesome power firsthand.
Yet, somehow I’d intertwined the idea of courage with identity. I’d looked at it almost as a personality trait, one that I just didn’t have. I would tell myself, “I am not brave. I am not courageous.”
Joan of Arc was brave. Harriet Tubman was brave. Martin Luther King Jr. was brave. Gandhi was brave.
But, the truth is I don’t think courage comes easily for anyone, just like my dad said in his sermon. When we believe it comes easily for others, we’re giving ourselves an excuse not to be courageous.
Maybe some people are born with more confidence than others, but, everyone is afraid of something. Everyone still has to make a conscious effort to “be brave” at some point in their life. None of us are born fearless.
A few years ago, I was preparing to head back to Southeast Asia for a few weeks, just to vacation. I grew up in Thailand and I hadn’t been back in several years, and I was missing it. Someone at work asked me where I was going and I responded that I was spending several weeks in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. I’ll never forget her response:
“Wow,” she said, eyes wide, “You must be really brave.”
I laughed out loud when she said that and explained to her that I had grown up there so it was really no big deal. She was still impressed, maybe even more so. She explained that she had never been outside of the US and would be terrified to travel that far from home.
I went back to my desk after that conversation but I kept thinking about how she had called me brave. Me, of all people.
It dawned on me that everyone’s version of brave looks different. I mean, there are some things that are considered universally courageous, but, the point is that courage doesn’t necessarily come naturally to anyone, AND there are many ways to be courageous/brave. What looks like a brave thing to someone might be no big deal to someone else. Standing on stage giving a speech is my nightmare, whereas, for someone else, it’s just routine. They don’t even get butterflies, which boggles my mind! Eating some questionable looking, yet delicious cuisine from a food stand in a foreign country is something I’d do without a thought, but some people would think of that as brave, or maybe crazy (which, to be fair, is probably true).
I’m trying to reframe the way I look at bravery and courage. I think I’ve given myself a pass, for years, by believing that I’m just not a brave person. I’m quick to shirk away from things that make me uncomfortable. I’m quick to say, “I can’t”. I’m afraid. That’s just the truth, but, the other truth I’m realizing is, just because I’m afraid doesn’t mean that I can’t do something and just because someone else looks brave or courageous, doesn’t mean that they aren’t afraid.
Courage and bravery don’t exist without fear.
It’s really, really hard to be brave but I’m trying to grow and believe that I can (with the help of God) be afraid and still do the courageous thing.