Bravery is only as brave as the strength of the fear it must overcome.
-Luci Shaw, The Crime of Living Cautiously
For a church picnic hosted at our house recently, my dad and brothers hung a big rope swing from a high tree branch on the back of our property. After nearly eight years swingless, we have a swing. The little church children delighted in the swing, keeping my brothers busy pushing: “Underdoggies” and “Around-the-Worlds.” After the picnic was over, the swing stayed. My brothers — for those who don’t know them, tall young men in their last few years of college — took a twelve-foot stepladder out to the swing site, climbed, pulling the swing, to stand on the very top of the ladder — two steps above the “Do Not Stand on or Beyond This Step” step — and plunged off the top of the ladder, swinging in a wild arc, back and forth, back and forth, higher than any of the children swing. I cringed, just to watch them climb there, but they stood fearlessly, jumped fearlessly.
A few weeks later, with a group of older church kids, the ladder came out again. And there were the brothers climbing to the top, and there was I, admonishing the other kids not to climb that high, telling them that ladders are not my thing. With a healthy dose of friendly teasing from kids at least a decade my juniors, I was persuaded to swing from partway up the ladder. Even that, standing facing out from the ladder, nothing to cling to but the rope of the swing, made my stomach flutter. But I did it, and there was something exhilarating in the arc of the swing, the smooth flight without any of the jerkings attendant on being pushed.
The brothers still went off the top. But here’s what I realized: it took more bravery, really, for me to go off that mid-step of the ladder, than for them to stand on the top. Because they are not afraid of heights. But I am.
A friend of mine thrives on adventure. Last year, she took herself on a months-long summer roadtrip, all alone in an old car, for days and days on roads brand-new to her. She tells me I need to get out more, do more, wonders how I manage to survive in the small circle of home, my small-town church, my small university. I wonder how she dares to venture so far and so free.
What is brave? What does it look like? Does it look differently for you than for me? I get trembles going to ask my friendly department chair to let me sign up to teach classes he’s already told me I can teach. I get trembles climbing not even halfway up a ladder to ride a rope swing. Maybe those things don’t frighten you. But maybe teaching my college classes would scare you? Maybe you’re frightened of being stuck somewhere small, missing something exciting?
Perhaps my brave is venturing out, overcoming my fear of new places, new people. Perhaps yours is sitting still, getting to the point where the places and faces are as familiar as the lines on your own palms. Perhaps I’ll find that the new places are much less terrifying than I imagine, perhaps you’ll find that the familiar things are much less boring than you think.
Perhaps we’re both being called to step out into our brave, past our fears? Perhaps we can cheer one another on as we climb up the ladder steps, take the rope between our hands, swing out and swing back.
Perhaps, when we find ourselves somewhere in that smooth arc, we’ll smile and realize that “brave” has been transformed into “fun.”
©2013 by Stacy Nott