I did something brave this week. My friends tell me it was brave. And yet it didn’t fit the image of bravery that perhaps we all hold in our minds (I didn’t jump in front of a car to save a pet meerkat or anything like that). What I did I think I may have only done once before- and given that I’m not quite ready to tell what I did this week I will tell you about the previous incident.
It was about 17 years ago- on a street in downtown Johannesburg. I was walking with a friend and suddenly I was aware of people a little too close. Someone suddenly placed their hand on my bag. I tugged a little to get it back. And then I glanced down and noticed a grubby blade pointed at my belly. I glanced up and noted a knife at the throat of my friend.
* an aside* At this point there is a Hollywood plot that still emerges in my head: one where I kicked the knife out of the hand of the assailants, pushed them to the floor and ran off. There is a redeemed version where David Wilkerson style I say “you can cut me into a thousand pieces and every one of them will scream I love you” at which they repent and ask to be baptised.
The brave thing I did on that day was letting go of the bag.
When I let go of the bag I let go of any sense that somehow I was invulnerable. I sobbed for about three days after that- and then spent the rest of my time in South Africa with a rubbish bag but with a sense of freedom I had never had before. I learned that even when vulnerable I could be OK (perhaps especially when vulnerable)
The brave thing I did this week was another moment where I somehow chose vulnerability over superhumanity. I chose to let go of a bag I had filled with my sense that I should be strong to protect others, a bag packed full of impressive ‘you can’t beat me’ posturing. And once again I find freedom. I find the sense that vulnerable is OK- that vulnerable is where I am most alive.
And I find that vulnerable is where I most find God. It makes sense I guess, that I find this vulnerable God- the one who incarnated himself as a baby, who subjected himself to another’s baptism and who finally subjected himself to another’s death. And in His bravery- of not being heroic as we understand it- he won a most lasting and transforming victory.
So I think I might want to redefine bravery for me. Bravery is about letting go, about choosing vulnerability over posturing strength.
The strange thing about that is that I have a feeling that it will lead to more “brave” acts. When I let go of my bag in Johannesburg my friend was released. After this week I am more aware of how I can love and serve other people in a sustained and boundaried way.
So here’s to bravery- in all its forms- but especially the letting go kind.