I was talking to a wise woman this week who said something important about bravery. She was telling the story of a woman who had stood up against some injustice and had bravely and publically confronted the person responsible. She had been very brave. The trouble was, said the woman, she hadn’t been prepared for what happens after a brave act. Often, after great acts of bravery there is no applause, or acclaim or even any warm feeling inside. The aftershocks of brave actions are fraught with an accompaniment of criticism or self doubt – or even worse, harder conditions. The wise woman I was talking about knows all about this. She said what is needed is more than bravery – it’s the long follow through of bravery, a conditioned and determined response to stay our ground – it’s bravery but not just in an action or two – it’s in a lifestyle, an attitude, a posture.
I was thinking about this and the process by which freedom came to God’s people through the Exodus. Moses was called to be brave and stand up to Pharoah – and even after he met with God and did what he said and even after he met Aaron and they convinced the Israelites that God had not forgotten them and that there was a solid plan that led to freedom – and even after the first show down with Pharoah where Moses and Aaron were able to declare openly, perhaps even defiantly in a great act of bravery – ‘let my people go’ to Pharoah and his court – the response was far less glorious. Actually, he was laughed at, and then the people he represented were all given hard labour and their lives became increasingly difficult. The people themselves tried to throw him out of town and life became HARDER not easier upon the first ACT of bravery. Thankfully Moses understood that what was needed wasn’t just one act of bravery but a whole new way to live – a life of bravery. This is a theme that confronts Moses over and over again. It’s not just one act here or there – not just mountain-top experiences, but valley realities too. It’s not just communing with God as though face to face with a friend – but it’s dealing with the day to day smallness of community and fairness and idol worship and a whole heck of a lot of criticism.
I recently read Conversations With Myself, which is a collection of letters and journal entries Nelson Mandela wrote during his prison years – many of his letters were never sent to the recipients – and many letters to him were not given to him. It was a subtle and yet very frustrating oppression. One of the letters Mandela writes explains this kind of lifestyle bravery. It’s written to his children after their mother had also been arrested and imprisoned for the ‘cause’ of challenging apartied. They were now orphans. And Nelson is trying to explain to them that their mother (and their father) had not abandoned them – but were trying to be brave. And that bravery has its costs – and now they were paying and it was time for them now to be brave. This was one of the ways they could fight.
I’m not sure what you think of when you think of bravery. If you are like me at all, and this is no doubt because I watch way to much Hollywood nonsense (and enjoy it) but I think of slow-mo acts of open defiance with music accompaniment and great applause and recognition – where everything is sorted at the end… I think of Braveheart yelling Freedom and running towards the battle. What I forget about and what I need to remember is the clean up – the long talks – the negotiations – the temptations to give in – the coldness of the night – the lack of resources – the kick back from the very people you are trying to help. What I forget is that bravery is not an act – not a moment – it’s a lifestyle – it’s an attitude – it’s a steady, long pursuit. It’s a posture by which we live.
So, if you are facing a huge decision where a brave act is necessary – a confrontation with evil or injustice – please – do it. Be brave. Act bravely. Run towards the battlelines with your face painted blue and declare your freedom.
But also, if you are in the kick back and your own people are threatening to disown you, and the battle seems to have taken a turn – and you are cold and unappreciated and you feel alone and filled with doubt and fear – be brave. Live bravely.
Remember the whole story again, go back to the source of your freedom and your calling and dig deep. For perhaps you are paying the costs of freedom and it’s now time for you to be brave.