How are you brave?

Throughout the month of January, WordPress is sending participating bloggers a writing prompt each day. It’s a way to find some creative inspiration and perhaps make connections with other bloggers. My entries in this blogging challenge will appear here under the tag #bloganuary.

The CBS Sunday evening program “60 Minutes” has done more than one story over the years about people who responded to various situations they found themselves in with extreme bravery, to protect or even save the life of another person, at great risk to themselves. Though such people can legitimately be referred to as heroes, none of those profiled thought of themselves and what they did in such terms. They simply responded to a dangerous situation with decisions that prioritized those who needed help without giving a great deal of thought to the risks to their own safety. As far as I know, I’m not one of those brave people, but how do any of us know this for certain until we are actually tested?

This is not to say that bravery is exceedingly rare. Anyone who is willing to face their fears and do the thing that fills them with dread (or even terror) is, as far as I’m concerned, a brave person. For some people going to the dentist or to a doctor requires them to do something they know they need to do, but that every other neuron in their brain is telling them not to do. The alcoholic or drug addict who knows that she is in for some very difficult days ahead but goes ahead and enters the treatment program demonstrates bravery that not everyone can muster.

You might really love bungee jumping. For me to try it would require a tremendous amount of bravery. One person’s sport is another person’s nightmare. You might really enjoy karaoke in a bar, but for some of the friends you are trying to convince to join you, the very idea of standing in front of a group of people and singing in front of them induces paralyzing terror.

When I was a painfully shy twelve-year-old, my father wanted me to be in a Christmas play at our church, where I would be one of several “wise men from the east” who, dressed in bathrobes and turbans, were to sing “We Three Kings” in front of a church full of people. The very idea was mortifying to me–it was bad enough that I would have to be dressed up in a costume on the stage, but the fact that I would be expected to sing as well made it unthinkable–and though the pressure from my dad was heavy, he relented and let me off the hook, to my great relief.

Throughout my life, until well into middle age, I was convinced I would never need a passport. Other people I greatly admired at the time, including my wife, were eager to travel, particularly for the purpose of missionary work, but from the time I was eight or nine years old, the very idea of being a missionary in another country was horrifying for me, and made more so by the fact that I believed there was a good chance that God wanted me to do exactly that. The very thought of traveling to a foreign country, and being exposed to a different culture, different food, different climate, etc., excites and energizes some people, but it terrified me.

Over time, somehow my introverted self managed to find the courage to become a guitar player and singer in a rock ‘n’ roll band, and eventually a worship leader. It may seem like nothing to some, but for me it nothing less than bravery to walk on that stage for the first time. Many years later, when I was 57 years old, to the great surprise of my wife, I finally obtained a passport, and somehow acquired the bravery to sign up for my first overseas mission trip. Even so, the first time I set foot in a foreign country I was more than a little bit afraid. But within just a few years I was taking construction teams to an orphanage compound in Haiti every year, to build homes, to build a school, and to spend time meeting and interacting with some of the poorest of the poor. Again, I know that for some people this kind of thing sounds exciting and fascinating, and I feel the same way now. But it took a bit of bravery for me to get there.

I’m hopeful that remembering that will help me not to push others too hard into facing their fears. Things that are exciting and rewarding to me now once required more courage than I could come up with at the time. I was emboldened to try something new by hearing the stories and experiences of others–perhaps my stories will help someone else.

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