What does it mean to be brave? I’m working on a character whose journey takes him from innocence to loss to revenge to the nothingness inherent in vengeance. At his lowest point he’s told that to overcome a mounting evil he must become brave.
But he doesn’t know how to be brave. He knows how to be brash. He knows how to let his emotions rule his actions. He knows how to use people for his own gain. He even learns how to kill. But killing and all the rest leave him in a dark place, alone.
Avian, my character, discovers that in order to truly conquer he must not overcome the opposition. He must overcome himself.
The Emptying of Trust
I find that when I work through what it means to trust God, I have to move past the anxious thoughts and notions swimming in my brain. It’s a place beyond me. A place like that looks different than my petty desires. Once I arrive at that place of trust, I act.
But action isn’t always indicative of a trusting heart.
How many of us work, work work, so we can live safe and secure? We cover our bases like the Israelites who “trusted” and prayed to God, but also prayed to the foreign gods of the earth just in case. After all, a little prayer to the god of rain can’t hurt when you’re a farmer. A little sacrifice to the god of money can’t hurt when you’re mortgage is due.
A true act of trust, however, looks different than our own fumblings for security and gain. It looks like sacrifice.
Getting Past Ourselves
In one scene Queen Faylinn, Avian’s mother, helps him grasp a hidden and special magic. “My children,” she says, “I want to tell you a secret. There is another kind of magic. It is a magic that springs forth from hope itself and is found in the most innocent of things within this realm. Few people know of it, and those who do, fear it. For its power is very great. It reaches into your heart when you use it and it will try to hold the very things you love and hold most dear. No kind of badness can stand against it. Only those brave enough to hope will ever have a chance to experience it. And only the chosen can wield it. You carry magic within you, Avian, this you know. And I wonder and wish, my Runes rise to hope, that perhaps you are the brave one among us. That maybe your hope is stronger than all our fears. That your heart is pure enough to find its magic.”
“Momma, how do I be brave,” asked Avian.
“To be brave you must become invisible to yourself.”
In the first century, to become a Christian meant to court martyrdom. The book of Hebrews talks of these Christians who were sawn in two and ripped apart. Yet their faith wavered not. These Christians trusted, and acted, and their actions showed where their hearts lay: in the hand of God. They lived invisible to themselves. They became less, as The Baptizer puts it, Christ became more.
The Brave Among Us
Twenty centuries later, how brave are we—the post-everything Christians? Between our Twitter fights and theological arrogance, our thirst for provocation and the endless cause-based-hills to die upon, where have all the brave Christians gone?
In The Cost of Discipleship Bonhoeffer asks, “How then do the disciples differ from the heathen?” He answers by saying Christians should go beyond what is expected in society—what Bonhoeffer refers to as extraordinary living. If society values self-promotion, the Christian should work to promote others. “The better righteousness,” he continues, “must have a motive that is beyond self. Or course it has to be visible, but they must take care that it that it does not become visible simply for the sake of becoming visible.”
The Family of God (the church) must find a better way. Not to be better, but to become more like Christ. We must point to the extraordinary by following the most extraordinary Way. But we can’t do this when we’re bent on being brash, manipulative, governed by sinful emotions and killing within our hearts. “Nurtured in insecurity,” writes theologian Edward Farley, “sin’s motivation is to secure, to anchor human beings in a … creation of its own act of meaning.”
Following Jesus leaves insecurity and our vengeful hearts behind. It demands an act of trust and another act of trust, and another. We wake into trust. We sleep, trusting. We serve, because we trust. We sacrifice because we trust. We become invisible to ourselves. We become brave.