When you stop being brave.


I’m in a fairly horrible season of my life and I’m not enjoying it. I’m very grateful it’s not something worse, but it’s delivering a fairly earthy kick nonetheless.

Loved ones keep calling me brave, or valiant. What is bravery really?

I think of bravery as being about choice. However, if you’re just in it, should you de facto be considered brave?

In the ER following a bad car wreck in my twenties, a doctor and three nurses cut into my stomach while I was fully awake. They stood over me and poured pints of saline (in a white plastic jug I remember, but could this be correct?) through a tube into my stomach to flush it out. All the while they discussed the details of the upcoming wedding of one of the nurses. What flowers had she decided on having and was so-and-so going to be able to come?

I lay there in a detached state of un-categorized pain thinking how surreal it was. Did they know I was there? Could I survive this? I remember thinking calmly, “This is insupportable. It’s insupportable. I’m going to rip out that tube, throw off the blanket and scream.” But there was nothing I could do. So I just lay there silently and stared at the ceiling as they pulled and tugged and chatted on.

Was I being brave? It didn’t feel like it, what choice did I have? I stayed silent because screaming could only have made it worse.

There are times when we clearly are brave. Brave to stand for justice (Nelson Mandela); brave to choose death over prolonged but limited life (Roger Ebert); brave to stand for belief in the face of religious persecution. But is it brave simply to endure something when you have no choice?

What are the choices in the death of a child, or the end of a marriage, or the loss of one’s health?

In Webster‘s bravery is defined as ‘to defy, challenge or dare. … A general term that suggests fortitude, daring and resolve.’ And ‘valiant’ implies ‘an inner strength manifested by brave deeds, often in battle.’

All things you choose to do. You could stick with where you are, but you choose to do something more instead. Some visible action in the face of testing circumstances above and beyond simple survival.

I didn’t feel I was being very brave about my present situation, until yesterday. Yesterday I realized that my “action” in the face of current circumstances is to behave as if I can continue to handle everything else as well.  But I can’t.

Perhaps it’s the British in me. The Stiff-Upper-Lippedness of my upbringing. The guts and tenacity that won us the war, illegitimi non carborundum and all that. Certainly there is much to be gained by this attitude.

But in harder seasons of one’s life, does one really have to be big enough to say “I can handle this and all the rest of it”? Do we fear being accused of self-pity if we allow the circumstances to consume us for a while?

Why not say:

“No, I’m sorry, my heart is haemorrhaging on the table right now so I don’t think it would be a good idea to drop your child off with me.”

“No, I’m sorry, I can’t sew that for you even though I could do it for free. Every ounce of energy I have is going into my kids and keeping the show on the road.”

“I really am pleased for your happiness/joy/celebration but I’m not going to be able to go much further than that only because I haven’t got any margin.”

Yesterday I realized how much more I take on in addition to what I’m having to deal with already. Why have I said yes to it all?  Am I actually defying my reality or just denying it?

I do “cover” a lot: “No, no, I’m still laughing haha, yes I’d love to come!”

I pretend I can manage more than I can: “No, no, not at all, don’t worry, I can totally do that for you.”

Is it pride? “This isn’t going to get me.

Is it fear? By not waving brave, do I fear I will sink not survive?

Why do I think I must be brave?  It’s exhausting “being brave” all the time! I’m not going to do it any longer.

I’m not going to pretend that Mothers Day isn’t going to kill me. That I’ll be fine hearing encomium to marriage and motherhood from the pulpit. Because I won’t, so I’m not going to go.

I’m not going to tell friends I can help them right now, because I can’t.

I don’t need to expect myself to climb out and be bigger than the hole I’m in, because God’s arms are beneath me and He’ll lift me out in due time.

I don’t need to be called marvellous, or gutsy, or brilliant, or brave. I don’t feel any of those things, but I am quite proud to be still on my feet.

When people ask me how I’m doing, I’m going to say, “It just continues” and then let the silence sit.

From here on until the landscape of my life changes, I’m just going to live it. Not ungrateful, not bouncy.

I’m going to sit with this season for as long as I have to be in its company, but I’m not going to be jumping up any time soon to pass around nibbles and drinks in the meantime.

I’m just going to stay silent. Screaming wouldn’t help.


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