TRYING TO BE BRAVE WHEN FACING SCARY
Have you ever wished you were braver? Maybe you saw an outfit or haircut you liked and wished you had the courage to pull it off? Or have you ever wished you had the guts to talk to the guy you liked without imploding? Have you ever wished you were braver when it comes to public speaking.
I have never had a loud, big personality. As a kid, I was laid back, a soft talker. It’s not that I was shy, but just never liked to interrupt or talk over someone else. I was definitely not particularly brave or courageous about putting myself out there. My husband wishes I were still more like that, because he hates it when I interrupt him. I have, however, grown up into a more forceful, strongly opinionated, yet often reserved, contemplative person. As I am still relatively quiet, it often surprises people that I have spent most of my career up in front of people. It’s not usually the personality type one associates with the stage.
My parents got me music lessons when I was very young. I was just focused (or obedient) enough to keep with it, and enjoyed it enough to keep me interested. Average talent combined with lots of practice hours granted me some ability, and eventually the worship leader recruited to play in our church. This was no cakewalk for me. As a pre-teen, playing with the adult band terrified me to the point that I used to turn my amp so far down I couldn’t even hear myself, just to make sure no one else could! When I went from playing to singing in church, the nerves only got worse. My heart would somehow suddenly be up in my nose, choking me.
In high school, my buddies and I started a band that we lovingly dubbed, Curious George. Sadly, Curious George had just one performance before folding. We played for our youth ministry, and this was the first time I had ever sung a legit solo to a packed house. I got out on stage and heard my own voice coming out of the speaker in front of me and was completely thrown. It was totally disorienting for me because it didn’t sound like the me in my head. We were playing a Cranberries cover, and my face was probably looking pretty much like a Cranberry too.
I felt like God was calling me to ministry. In those days, female preachers weren’t really celebrated, barely tolerated. Twenty years ago, being a pastor’s wife, a secretary, or a worship leader was the most typical female ministry role. With these options available, I decided that I was going to major in music in college and become a church music pastor, in spite of my nervousness. This decision shifted something in me. Before I felt that call, I got normal performance jitters, but afterward, it turned into something more like terror of failure. I really wanted to be useful to God. I felt inadequate frequently, and scared that I would not be good enough. As a teenager, it didn’t help when well-meaning pastors in my life gently encouraged me to pursue something else. I was just stubborn enough to keep trying.
Because God is faithful to me, he made room for me when I wasn’t looking for it. I had settled into a behind-the-scenes role as a youth pastor’s wife and was happy there when my pastors pulled that comfortable rug out from under me. They asked me to lead the worship ministry. I was floored. To begin with, I was younger by several decades than most of the amazing singers and musicians I was being asked to lead. Many of them sang or played professionally. To top it off, these were church services of a couple thousand people. I struggled to say yes to that opportunity. I had to ignore the churning in the pit of my stomach, swallow hard, and try to find my brave face. I knew God was asking me to be obedient, but it was the scariest thing I’d ever done.
People aren’t born with courage. It’s not a personality trait, it’s a heart-wrenching choice. Courage is closely related to faith. I find courage when I quiet all the good reasons in my head not to do something and let my heart lead instead, propelled forward by the hope for something greater. Sometimes courage is letting go of our common sense and the internal security measures we all have. We can become the heroes of our own story if we decide to face down what intimidates us.
My daughter, Sharayah, loved the Divergent series, so I downloaded it for a series of long flights I took recently. It’s an entertaining and easy read, with the added bonus of being thought provoking—good vacation novels. One of the books’ major themes is bravery in the little things. The author, Veronica Roth, chose the word “dauntless” to describe her lead characters, which means bold, unintimidated, daring, brave, or courageous. Her story illustrates how courage can take many forms. You don’t have do extreme acts like walking barefoot over hot coals to be brave. Courage is sometimes the strongest in small, every day acts.
It takes courage to commit, to trust, to hope, especially when you have experienced rejection before. The older we get and the more life we have seen, the more courage that those risks require. Bravery isn’t the absence of fear, but acting in spite of your fear. Courage begins with the first step forward.
How can you become the hero of your own story?
1. Be brave in the little things first.
Financial struggles can be one of the most daunting challenges we face. Because it feels so overwhelming, it’s easy for us to stick our head in the sand and avoid dealing with it. Facing this can be one of those small acts of extreme courage. Start by being brave enough to open the bill you know you can’t pay. That little act of opening an envelope may be the bravest thing you can do. That first step gets you on your way.
You can either try to ignore failure, be overwhelmed by it, or try to tackle it. If you don’t have the courage to tackle the whole thing, try another small but brave step first: Ask for help. Be brave enough to eyeball the area of failure you have fought for years and put up your fists again. If you can be brave enough to be free of secrets, you can get free of just about anything.
2. Be brave enough to hear your own voice.
For the most part, worship teams are cover bands. We listen to great songs and then play them for our church. If it’s a popular song, people want it to sound like the recording. When you are covering a song it’s not that hard to duplicate guitar tone, keyboard sounds, or beats nearly perfectly. What you can’t replicate is the voice. Your singer will never sound like the guy on the record! Voiceprints are absolutely unique. Nobody can sound exactly like anyone else.
The same thing applies to our communication. You won’t ever preach just like Chris Caine or Joyce Meyer, because Jesus never meant for you to sound like anyone else. He gave you a unique voice because he gave you something to say that no one else can! Finding your voice is perhaps more about having courage than anything else. Be brave enough to believe that you have something valuable to say! Ask God to lead you, and speak up when you feel strongly about something.
3. Be brave by being different.
It takes a little bit of courage to be okay with being different. The best version of me isn’t when I look and act just like the people I respect, but when I get comfortable in my own skin. The more comfortable we are with who God designed us to be, the easier it is to access the unique gifts God gives us. You aren’t meant to blend in, but to stand out!
We aren’t just out here naked on our own, hoping it’s adequate. God told Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills.” (Exodus 31:2-3) God chose Bezalel, and he gave him exactly what was needed to do the job God called him to do. The Holy Spirit makes us more than we are!
4. Be brave by having faith in God when things aren’t going as expected.
After Moses led Israel out of captivity in Egypt, in Exodus 32, they paused at Mount Sinai to hear from God about the next step. While Moses was up on the mountain talking to God, everyone else got tired of waiting. They pooled their valuables and made a statue of a calf and worshipped it as their god. For a long time, I read this story and felt a little superior. How could they be so dumb after God rescued them? The truth is, unfortunately, that I’m really not that different. When I feel like God is taking a little too long, I can be pretty quick to transfer my trust from Jesus to what I can make happen with my own skills and resources. We all can be tempted to make things happen on our own, just like Israel did.
The first step toward faith in challenging seasons is courage. God loves and rewards faith. We can access that favor by daring to believe God when things aren’t looking the way we want. That kind of bravery is a true act of courage.
5. Be brave by dreaming about taking Abraham journeys.
I grew up in a remarkably courageous family. Sometimes I think about it and am amazed at the brave choices they have made. My father left his well-paying and prestigious career at IBM, and at over fifty years old, moved across the country to become a pastor. At twenty-one years old, my sister left America, all her family and friends, and moved to a third-world country to be obedient to the call of God on her life. My brother moved to China to marry a girl he fell in love with online. My mother got her doctorate at fifty-five years old and started a brand new career. I have enormous respect for these kinds of risky, dream-chasing, courage choices!
I recently got to chat with Taya Smith. She told me her story, about how she grew up in a tiny town in New South Wales, Australia, and moved to Sydney after high school. She got involved at Hillsong Church in the youth ministry leadership team. She had a dream to sing, and decided to audition for the Voice. She made it to the finals, and the producers told her that she was about to be offered a record deal. That same week, the Hillsong music producer asked her to come in and lay some background vocals for the new United album. She hadn’t been involved in music at Hillsong, but said yes anyway. When she arrived, they asked her to go ahead and record the song, “Oceans.” That very next weekend, she was leading worship for one of the campuses. The following week, Hillsong hired her as one of their worship leaders, and the rest is history. She had no idea when she left her hometown that this would be her journey! In just one wild, crazy week, God put her on the road to his purpose for her life. What if she had never left that little town?
God must really like something about journeys of faith. God asked Abraham to take one of these make-no-logical-sense journeys. When Abraham was obedient, it literally changed history. We can’t see the end result of these risky moves, but God does. That kind of bravery starts by asking yourself the question, what matters so much that it’s worth letting go of what is safe for the chance it might succeed? Dare to dream, and see what God does!
“Because of your shameless audacity, he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:8b, 9 NIV)
6. Be brave enough to trust people.
Pastor’s wives in particular seem to be a magnet for betrayal. I have met many who have mostly closed their emotional doors. They trust their family and maybe a few key friends, but most of the rest of the world gets held out at arms length. I suspect that this is true for many other women too. Only a brave woman will choose to trust people when she has been hurt in unimaginable ways many times before.
Risk assessment will always keep your world small when it comes to relationships. The famous passage in 1 Corinthians 13:7 says this about love. “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” That divine kind of love never ceases to be a force pushing forward, even in the face of rejection, of neediness, or betrayal. Its God-like selfless quality is what makes it so special. That kind of love marries heart with action. It risks the pain for the hope of what is greater.
Can you be brave enough to keep pushing your circle out rather than shrinking it in? It just takes a little bit of courage to be like Jesus, and give someone another chance.
7. Be brave because Big Brother is watching. (not the government)
In our fight to get through this life, Jesus isn’t sitting at the judge’s table, no matter who else might be. He’s in our corner, behind us, coaching us and cheering us on! He promises to be our Advocate, the attorney on our side. He is the big brother who protects us from bullies. It’s way easier to pick a fight with our problems when we know who we have backing us up!
Christians have an extra net below them when they venture out bravely. God promises he will help us do the scary things in our hearts. “You’ll take delight in God, the Mighty One, and look to him joyfully, boldly. You’ll pray to him and he’ll listen; he’ll help you do what you’ve promised. You’ll decide what you want and it will happen; your life will be bathed in light. To those who feel low you’ll say, ‘Chin up! Be brave!’ and God will save them. Yes, even the guilty will escape, escape through God’s grace in your life.” (Job 22:26-30 MSG)
Peter made a famous and courageous walk on water a long time ago. He evidently thought the goal was worth the risk, and he trusted that Jesus had his back.
What courageous act God is asking from you?
Bethel Music recently released the song, “You Make Me Brave,” about stepping out onto the water. Hillsong United’s “Oceans” and “You Make Me Brave” make great soundtracks while you reflect on that question.