Courage is like — it’s a habitus, a habit, a virtue: You get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging.” Mary Daly (via Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection)

There are images you just can’t get out of your head.

Sometimes this is because of how graphic and startling they are.

Other times it’s because of the incredible emotional weight they carry.

This wasn’t either of those. In fact, it was unremarkable in a lot of ways.

My wife and I attended one of those events that is utterly forgettable. You know, the school activity that is ostensibly about promoting your child’s talents but really exists to get you to spend money on something while you are in that state of unrestrained generosity due to the ridiculous level of cuteness you’re imbibing?

Yep, it was an open mic for 9-year-olds, with desserts for sale.

My daughter sang something. But I’ll be honest, I don’t remember what she sang or really if she sang. … Regardless, she was fantastic.

However, for some reason, there’s one performance I’ve been unable to forget in the last three to four years since that day.

One of my daughter’s friends, we’ll call her B., sang the Sara Bareilles song “Brave.”

A sweet enough song, it’s about, well, being brave. But it wasn’t the song itself that moved me. It was the embodiment of the song in this little girl that seared itself into my memory.

Imagine if you will, a tiny little 9 year old with dark brown hair, brown eyes, and olive skin, chin tucked against her chest, eyes on the floor, so full of fear that she’s practically whispering the words to the song as her tiny voice cracks:

Say what you wanna say

And let the words fall out

Honestly I wanna see you be brave

With what you want to say

And let the words fall out

Honestly I wanna see you be brave

Can you see it?

Here was a little girl so frightened she could hardly get the words out, and yet she did. She dug deep, she averted her eyes, and she let the words fall out.

And you know what I did? I applauded obnoxiously loud. Why? Because there’s something about seeing courage up close that moves you.

It’s the trope in countless action flicks: The terrified person digs deep and finds the courage to do what needs to be done in spite of his or her fear. And it turns out that’s what we all need most.

We need a hero. Heroes are not necessarily those with all the gifts of Marvel characters. A hero acts even when they’re terrified, because they just know they need to act.

B. reminds me of another hero, a brave young woman from Mark’s Gospel.

In chapter 14, Jesus is at the height of his popularity and in the crosshairs of the powerful. Then a powerless, nameless woman stepped into a room that she had no right being in around a group of men who barely acknowledged her humanity. And, I can imagine, with shaking hands, she broke a jar of perfume over Jesus’ head to anoint his body for burial.

As would be expected, Mark tells us “some of those at the table were indignant … so they scolded her harshly” (14:4-5 NLT).

But Jesus put them in their place — “Knock it off, hypocrites!” he said (more or less). Not only did she do something beautiful, her courage led her to act in step with the Spirit in ways she couldn’t have imagined. In fact, her act of courage moved her to join God’s story in such a way that she became spotlighted in the story itself.

“Wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.”

Jesus (Mark 14:9 NLT)

Courage is what the Spirit looks like. I believe this is why John tells us that “perfect love expels all fear” (1 John 4:18 NLT). When the Spirit is at work in us, we act with courage.

This is humbling to me because I so often lack courage.

Often I choose …

to say what is acceptable rather than what is true.

to get along rather than rock the boat.

to lie rather than to be vulnerable.

And every time I do, I choose something other than God’s story. Because the Spirit doesn’t dabble in playing it safe.

The Spirit, I’m convinced, feels like courage, looks like courage, sounds like courage.

You still may have butterflies in your stomach, or your eyes may lower, or your voice may crack.

After all, sometimes, maybe most times, following the Spirit means being like Peter and stepping out of the boat even though you’re pretty darn sure it’s a bad idea. But Jesus is out there so. …

It means being like the nameless woman who sacrifices reputation and dignity because Jesus is in that room. …

It means being like B. and singing your song, even as your voice cracks.

Following the Spirit looks like courage — not stick-your-nose-up and have-no-fear courage, but drag-fear-kicking-and-screaming-into-the-room-with-you-as-you-do-what-you-know-you-have-to-do type of courage.

That’s what you and I need. And THAT’S what (I think) the Spirit is doing.

How is the Spirit inviting you to sing … even as your voice cracks? Where are you being invited to step out in courage?

What are you waiting for?

Tim Diehl
Tim Diehl serves at Koinos Community Church near Reading, Pa., where he lives with his wife, four kids, and cat-dog Greta.

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