In the moments when we wonder why we bother, when we feel futile and small and ridiculous, when we feel misunderstood and mischaracterized, when we are paying a price, it’s in those moments that we learn the truth about being brave: it doesn’t always feel good.

If, as Aristotle supposedly posited, the only way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing, well, then that’s certainly an option. And sometimes a very alluring option. Be nothing, do nothing, say nothing, watch more television, buy more stuff.

Everyone likes to talk about being fearless, about owning your truth, about standing up and being counted. We sing songs in church about being brave, we blast music in the minivan and shake shake shake it off, we hang prints up in our homes about courage, we talk about brave people or follow them on social media until we somehow make ourselves believe that we ourselves are somehow brave.

I think we like to talk a lot about being brave because the actual doing of it is so freaking terrifying. And tiring. And ordinary.

It’s my belief that true fearlessness comes from living loved. When we find our worth and our value in Christ, then, as the Psalmist wrote, what can man do to us? I don’t think we can be a people-pleaser or an approval-addict AND be brave with our lives. Perhaps that’s why fearlessness or bravery starts with our identity first, it’s the deep well from which we draw living water, enough for today.

I believe that bravery is born in the quiet and ordinary moments long before it’s seen by anyone else. Sometimes it’s as simple and devastating as the moments no one else will ever see – the moments of daring to be honest with our own self, of laying down our excuses or justifications or disguises, of asking ourselves what we really want, of forgiveness, of honesty, of choosing the hard daily work of restoration, of staying resolutely alive when every one else is just numbing themselves against life. These are why our friends matter so deeply: they are witness to the sacred secrets. Not all secrets are terrifying things, some of them are beautiful and transformative.

But then come moments – those turning point moments, when you know it matters more than anyone else would know from the outside. The “yes” you need to say, the “no” you need to enforce, the truth you need to speak, the life you dare to imagine, the risk you take, the art you create, the establishment you defy, the danger you face, the living out of what you profess, whatever. Those moments are our turning points because when we look back on them, we say and then something changed.

That is true. Usually it’s us, we’re the ones who change. We take another tentative step out onto the water, a bit further away from the boat of our safety. And we do it alongside of each other, hand in hand, never alone.

I have learned the hard way that we usually can’t be brave on our own.

The ways we connect with each other might be quite typical – Sunday morning services or school pick-ups or bible studies at church or school or work or afternoon walks. Or more typical to our generation – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, podcasts, texting. Either way, we don’t feel quite so alone in our moments of choosing brave. We feel seen, we feel heard, we feel prayer at our back and a sisterhood waiting up ahead of us on the path.

Together makes us braver.

I am surrounded by interesting and dangerous women. Sometimes this is wonderful, other times it’s exhausting, it is always challenging. Because they push me. They push me to think harder, to be more honest, to read more widely, to listen more broadly, to get my hands dirty, to stop compartmentalizing my life, to live more seamlessly. They make me examine my choices and my priorities. They question me, they pray for me. When I grow weary, they hold my arms up and growl “don’t you dare sit down.” These women have stretched my opinions, my theology, my mind, and my heart until I hardly know my own shape anymore.  The funny thing is that they do this just by getting on with it – no sermons, no programs, no big manifestos, just a company of women being brave in ordinary ways, each so different from the other.

They are being brave with their own lives and so, because I am alongside of them, I am learning to be brave, too.

Their lives are a cadence I want to carry: others first, pay attention, open heart, work well, rest radically, open doors, live prophetically, make room in your life to be inconvenienced, challenge, love well. I stumble so often, I get cranky and melodramatic and self-important. March, they say. Pick up your one small stone, they say, we’ve got a mountain to move.

It’s a risk. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. There is a price to pay, a cost to be counted. Reorienting your life around what you believe about God and what it means to be truly human and believing every small life or act of justice matters comes with a cost. We are counting that cost. And it’s worth it. Every time. Even when we’re wrong, even when we screw up, even when we sink beneath the waves and find ourselves scrambling back to the boat, licking our wounds, being brave together is worth it. It means we get to try again. Together.

Soapbox Warning: On Jian Ghomeshi and the acceptability of sexualized violence against women
Advent: for the ones who know longing
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  • Kristin Potler

    I love you. That is all.

    • Chelsea

      Agreed times a million! <3

  • Sarah, I’m sure you didn’t write this with our chat in mind, but it felt like a letter to me, about me, which could have been written by me. My One Word for this year is Courage, and much of my writing and thinking right now is all about identity…and I needed a lot of hope and courage today. You’ve brought me this though your tweets to me today, and now through this post.

    Thank you Sarah, you have changed my life today. Truly. In ways you won’t know, but which mean the world. Blessings Sarah, God spoke through you today. You are such a beautiful writer, after God’s own heart. Thank you.

  • Karen Esterline

    Is it really worth it, though? Really? When you don’t have a physical group of other brave souls and all you have are these vague internet connection with others who share your bravery? I know I shouldn’t, but lately I’m leaning toward “being nothing, doing nothing, saying nothing”. I’m exhausted and lonely.

    • Elisabeth Holley Howard

      I am sending prayers and hugs to you, sweet Karen. I understand your statement and often ask myself the same things. Praying for your exhaustion and loneliness – you are seen – you are heard!!

      • Karen Esterline

        Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • I’m so sorry, Karen. Praying here, too. Been there, we all go there.

      • Karen Esterline

        Sarah – your post was beautiful and I hope I didn’t sound snotty! Feeling very cynical these days. Your readers are fabulous, though. Feeling like the castaway in the Police’s “message in a bottle” 🙂

        • Cynthia

          Karen–so-o relate to your words, your heart. Have found myself at the same spot many times, it’s hard, even harder to try to keep moving forward. Appreciate your honesty & vulnerability.

    • resonate with this. Thanks for being brave in saying it out loud.

      • Karen Esterline

        You’re so sweet for calling me brave 🙂 Thank you. Sometimes it’s easy to forget the small things take courage, too.

    • Karen, your honesty is a blessing 🙂 I pray a place of rest and peace and provision for you even in the midst of your reality. Be kind and gentle to yourself – you don’t need to prove anything to anyone x

      • Karen Esterline

        Thank you for understanding where I’m at…

    • Lyn Belzer-Tonnessen

      It’s okay to lay down your burdens and rest for a while. Self-care is so often forgotten by us women! Do what you have to in order to recharge. We’ll be here to help when you’re ready to pick it up again.

      • Karen Esterline

        So sweet – thank you so much.

    • I’ve totally been there, too, Karen. If you want to talk and contact me, I can give you my email.

      In the meantime, here is a hug, if you like hugs. <3

      • Karen Esterline

        Thank you so much. If you want to comment something (anything – just “hi” – you don’t even have to read anything there) on my blog I can get your email without either of us having to post the info 🙂 It’s http://remnantsofreflections.wordpress.com

    • Cassie Hale

      Karen, it is sooo hard to do anything apart from community, and I feel much the same way as you. I’m not yet rooted in my new community, and I feel like an anchor just bobbing up and down trying to sink down deep but unable to get a good hold and hang on. It’s lonely. From one soul sister to another, I will be praying for you as well.

      • Karen Esterline

        Thank you, Cassie. I hope you find some connections soon in your new community. I’ve moved a lot and it always takes me at least a year to feel “settled” enough to be myself. So hard to meet new people and be yourself without overwhelming people with too much reality :0)

        • Karen, I totally get what you are saying and I’ve been in a season like this for a good long time. I started being brave and one by one I lost many friends…I thought they were friends…but I realize that they were only there as long as I people-pleased. As soon as I started having an opinion, that differed from theirs…they were gone. This loss of relationship I know is important so that I move forward, but it so often feels like a punishment for being yourself. Somehow, through the fog, deep down, I know I can never go back to the way it was, but I also long to connect with real.brave.women-know me. I have a few women in my life like that. But my world is mostly barren. I know it’s a journey, so I’m waiting. And for now, these women are online, and I’m thankful for that.

          • Karen Esterline

            So true. I used to speak my mind too much, and discovered as a youth pastor’s wife that was frowned upon. So I learned to keep my mouth shut for a time. But I still had opinions that I was sharing carefully with the youth – opinions that were more and more “controversial” (i.e.: feminism etc) – then my husband was diagnosed with bipolar depression, then the church hired a new pastor who didn’t like us or our youth ministry philosophy so fired us both. Everyone we thought was a friend told us it was all for the best. I feel like being brave ruined my life. I no longer have any desire to speak out, to teach, to try to make a difference. I’m shell-shocked and tired and trying to help my children through the trauma of the last three years is heartbreaking.

          • Our story is similar…our children are also hurt. It was all very traumatic and “friends” are wondering why we are so upset. I feel your pain and I’m so sorry. And I don’t know what to do about it either…but I know deep down…we are not alone in this. Please speak out. If I may say, I understand some of your pain…I feel like running, leaving every aspect of the church…but some days I feel this needs to be said. Abuse is like this. It’s easy to hide, it’s hard to confront or speak out. But I feel this is what Jesus really talked about. We can’t give up can we? Maybe for a time we need to heal…but then…how can we be silent when we know others are suffering as we did? I don’t know all the answers…

          • Karen Esterline

            I’m so sorry you have also been hurt. I’ve been feeling the same way lately. That maybe it’s time to stop hiding and just step out and bring attention to the abuse. I was wondering if anyone would really care or listen – but this small “platform” has given me a hint …

    • Corduroy’s Button

      This is exactly where I was throughout most of 2014. It’s an unbelievably tough place to be. Mostly because I compare myself to others or to past versions of myself and I would feel inadequate or guilty. Which lead to defeat, which lead to more apathy.

      I will pray that you find brave souls in flesh and blood where you are. You are absolutely right. Internet connects are not enough.

      • Karen Esterline

        Thank you so much! I’m feeling almost brave enough to allow myself to connect to other real people… we’ll see how this goes…

  • helen

    Sarah I would really like it if you could write more about this “to stop compartmentalizing my life, to live more seamlessly.” Perhaps you have elsewhere and I just need a link – but it’s something that fascinates me and i could use some insight, if you felt inclined.

    • I think I’ve written about it a bit here and there but can’t remember the links off the top of my head. Will give it a think.

  • Oh how true this is. Goodness. I love you.

  • Amy C

    This is lovely, Sarah. I purposefully surround myself with wild, dangerous, thoughtful women, too, who frequently have radically different thoughts and feelings and will push and push and push me. Yes, it is exhausting. My feelings get hurt, a lot. My eyes are widened, a lot. But also, my heart is expanded, a lot. And my mind. And my soul.

    Though I don’t know you, I consider you one of those women. Your post yesterday was hurtful to me in some ways. I still disagree with you in some ways. But I love your heart, I love your drive, I love your passion. Iron sharpens iron, and I hope as women we learn and grow from the clashing together, forged in the heat of passionate emotion and courage. Keep on keeping on, Sister.

    • So good to hear and read this, Amy. Thank you. And thanks for sticking around in the disagreement and hurt – I don’t take it lightly. Love to you, too, sister. xo

  • These days, I can’t imagine life any other way. This is a beautiful, raw truth. We are brave together, and then together, we are brave.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you. I was brave recently and it didn’t work out how I wanted it to. Today I have been really sad, honestly. But my friends were wonderful & supportive. They won’t let me quit and I’m so grateful for that. Because I am TIRED. This was a great reminder & beautiful portrayal of how I feel about them – especially today.

  • “In the moments when we wonder why we bother, when we feel futile and small and ridiculous, when we feel misunderstood and mischaracterized, when we are paying a price, it’s in those moments that we learn the truth about being brave: it doesn’t always feel good.”

    No, it doesn’t always feel good. But I’ve found that the more you stand brave in the face of everything that is thrown at you, the more you realise that there’s really no other way to be.

  • Lyn Belzer-Tonnessen

    Darn tootin’.

  • Allison Olfelt

    Your bravery is contagious, my dear. Keep on marching. Things are changing.

  • Christine

    Standing beside you, before the gaping maw. You are not alone. Eventually the stench fades, but the memory remains. I’m so glad it won’t deter you. Lead on, Sarah, lead on.

  • Mel Eyeons

    Thank you for this. I read it just as I was thinking it was all pointless and I might as well give up. In tears but good ones.

  • Chris

    Can’t tell you how much of a blessing this is, regarding both the topic and the timing. Courage isn’t a big fireworks show. It’s the frightened resolve to keep doing good despite opposition. Living courageously certainly is tiring, but we’re really never alone. Thanks for your beautifully-written encouragment.

  • Briana Meade

    I love this. I think we all need to hear this: that being brave is ordinary and that it happens in community. As a SAHM mom I find this to be true on a daily basis. The days that I am around other women with kids the same age as my own are the easier days where I feel like I am “okay.” It truly takes a village…not just for our kids, but for us as well!

  • lori

    Tears, tears, and more tears. We are connected, you and I, and we don’t even know each other. Keep being brave. It’s so wonderfully exhilirating for those of us who feel like we live in the land of misfit toys.

  • Beautiful! Thank you for taking the time to write and share this. I really needed a shot in the am today and this is perfect and wonderful xoxo

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  • Bert Breland

    I really like this phrase, ” bravery starts with our identity first, it’s the deep well from which we draw living water, enough for today…” I have always believed that the most important thing in leadership is self-definition, always sharing: this is who I am, this is what I believe and this is where I’m going. Your thoughts help me confirm how connected knowing yourself and defining yourself is to bravery in leadership. Thank you.

  • Rebecca Erwin

    It is so tiring to be brave. Thanks for the encouragement. I needed it today.

  • IfMeadowsSpeak

    I too am learning of community and together-ness, how it advances in ways we never would, alone. So much yes to your words.

  • AmandaMedlin

    Thank you for your bravery and authenticity. Over the past few years, you have been like an older sister to me, your voice and your words holding my hand and helping me to be stronger in who I am and what I believe. Thank you for showing me the way to live and write authentically.

  • pastordt

    Amen. And also? Thank you.

  • Living loved. That line is the heart of it for me. And a big YES to the role we can play in each other’s faith walk! What a blessing to find those you can really travel with in the name of Jesus.

  • Normel S.

    This post was down right beautiful. I always think about how important people truly are to each other and how much people need people. In this case you are blessed to be surrounded by such amazing people. I on the other hand lack this kind in my life and I think I need that. Social media however has allowed me to see such beautiful work as this blog and be inspired.

  • Ida

    Yes to this. Sarah, come to Florida. I want to sit at my coffeeshop with you and talk.

  • Alia_Joy

    I feel like I never comment here but I read and I like your kind of brave. You’re a peacemaker which is no small thing, even when you’re speaking truth or pushing into hard things. Kindness matters. Loving well matters. I think you do this really well. Thankful for your voice but also for who you are when you’re not speaking.

  • So very true. Some of the hardest times to be brave in my own life have been those times of finding and connecting with those who are my “together.” Because real connection requires sharing, which requires vulnerability, which requires bravery. Like you said, it’s part of the ordinary.

  • Brandy Watson

    I needed to reread this today. Because I was brave and vulnerable. I stuck up for someone who was being very poorly treated and verbally attacked by people in my church online over political stuff. And my Pastor unfriended me on Facebook. So yeah. Needed to reread this today!

    • Good for you! Doing the right thing can cost but I, for one, applaud your bravery and integrity 🙂

      • Brandy Watson

        Thank you!! 🙂

  • Beth Miller

    Sweet Miss Sarah, this is everything-EVERYTHING- that is clattering around inside my chest right now. The together nature of being brave. Finding community. Speaking the whole truth, wholly in love. Thank you thank you thank you for your faithfulness.

  • Krista

    I hope there is a time I spend a day with you again- such a beautiful soul; love everything about this, friend.

  • I love this. Thank you for being brave!

  • <3 this and crave it, too. Praying for those of us who are feeling the wounded part the most right now.

  • Author C N Sensse

    From ” Really Knowing God.”

    “It was when I reached the end of myself,” he said. “After
    I had lost everything I had, the house, the business, my wife, my
    son-everything I thought I had, was gone. I didn’t know what to do. It was then
    that I gave up and asked God to take over. Then I was able to stop worrying
    about it.”
    cnsensseagain.blogspot.com

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  • I so needed this today. I have been lucky to have that group behind me in so many walks of my life. Although, as I’ve gotten older and we’ve all gone somewhat our separate ways, I feel a bit lost and alone. As a single woman entering my 30s and having never been married, had kids, etc. It’s so hard to find your ‘people’ or find a place in a faith community. I feel like so often there isn’t space left for us. Women’s ministry is focused on mothers and wives, so we don’t fit, but the single young adult groups are filled with college kids. It’s hard to be brave and keep showing up in faith communities when I don’t feel like there’s a spot on the table or a box for me to fit into. Part of me wants to be brave and address this issue and try to make a home, even on the internet, for women like me. Start a blog? A book club? Try to find some in my own community. It just seems like a lonely endeavor 🙁 But choosing to be brave is worth more than sitting on the sidelines. Thank you for the motivation!

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  • Corduroy’s Button

    I have started a journey towards bravery, one week at a time.

    Each year, I pick one word to meditate on, and in 2015, the word is “EMBARK.”

    If you are resolving to be more brave, adventurous and daring, or if you are seeking to live live to it’s fullest, or if you are burned out and looking for a way to become invigorated again, join me at https://embark52.wordpress.com… as I do the same.

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