My daughter entered an art competition last year where she had to explore the concept of imagination. She chose to dance to a song about bravery because she felt if someone wants to soar away with their imagination, it takes guts. I agree.
Many people try to muster the courage for new beginnings or try to eliminate old habits or start good new ones as the year commences. And it’s good to have goals. But maybe some of us are like that turtle in the cartoon version of Robin Hood who is always afraid, but sometimes he peeks his head out to get in the game. Sometimes we peek out and engage what’s around us. And sometimes we get stuck. Sometimes we get afraid and duck back in the shell. We sign up for the new gym membership but then quit going. We intend to resolve a conflict but figure if we ignore the issue, it’ll fade away. Feeling like a failure and too fearful to ask for help or accountability, we traipse back to our beloved little turtle shell and curl up in a ball right smack in the middle of Comfortable. I do this. I like doing this. My shell is sweet and cozy and warm and I know all the things that are in it and how they work. I like it there. (Clearly, change has always been a bit of a struggle for me.)
But think back in your life to your moments when you were brave, to those moments when you stood up and did what was good, right, risky, obedient, adventurous… Regardless of the outcome, our moments of bravery help define our character and shape our future. So whatever approach you are taking to the new year—“bah on resolutions!” “bring on the running!” “out with the bread and sugar!” “I’m gonna pick a word-of-the-year!” “Journaling Dreams 101, here I come!”—try and remember this little piece of advice, if you’d like. Grab hold of that word, that dream, that discipline, that moment of change and don’t get scared. Don’t talk yourself out of it, don’t define yourself as a failure if you mess up, and don’t turn tail and sprint back to the familiar, old ways that you’d so hoped you could change.
You are not alone.
My children took their grandma to feed the ducks on her birthday last year. We called the ducks and ran from the geese, but the truth is that a family of turtles actually stole the show. One little turtle was absolutely determined to get out of the pond to reach a piece of bread on the ground in front of him. We threw bread all around him in the water, but he tried and tried to get out of the pond to that one piece he couldn’t reach. And my kids giggled and giggled every time that silly turtle slipped back into the water. All that turtle needed was a little push and the not-soggy-but-still-smushed-bread would have been his. He was not afraid to keep trying.
When we walk out with courage, we sometimes still need a little push, a little help, or maybe a lot of help. I’ve had to take new bold steps in parenting as I’ve watched my oldest child begin transitioning from little girl to teenager. So far, she’s done it with such grace, but oh the stretching it has caused in Mama! I have felt like that pond turtle with a strained neck and still no bread but my love for my daughter compels me to keep stretching. And my daughter is sometimes the one who gives me a push. After one of our coming-of-age talks, I told her honestly, “I’m just trying to be a good mom.” She smiled and said, “You are.” She didn’t comprehend how powerful those two words were, giving me that little push I needed to know that all the stretching was accomplishing something. I had done at least one thing, or said at least one thing, that was helpful. Whew! Just those two words extinguished any fear trying to inch its way in as I evaluated all that’s gone into getting my daughter ready for “whatever next thing she’s facing now.” A new rush of holy fire flooded into my soul, telling me I could keep on stretching—bread or no bread—because it is worth it to keep on loving and praying and talking and praying and digging and thinking and praying, even if I feel scared teetering on the edge and wishing I could slip back into the warm water and rewind to when the hard days held broken hair bows and torn library books and too much splashing in the bath. Yet I see sweet fruit in my beautiful daughter, walking courageously forward into the New. Yes, that sweet daughter who uses her art to spread messages of courage into the world. I’ll keep stretching my neck just to see God glorified in her sweet spirit. When we walk out in faith and hope, and we need courage, Christian community and family can help. But more than that, even deeper and truer and more powerful, is the Holy Spirit who lives inside all who believe in Jesus. The Holy Spirit is our ever-present counselor and helper. His capacity is literally divine. So I say again—be brave. You are not alone.
Cozying up in the comfy familiar isn’t always bad though (provided it’s not some type of destructive sin, ya know) and sometimes I fully believe it’s necessary to curl up in our safe places for basic survival. So I’ll still live in that place sometimes, but I won’t let it keep me from moving forward in 2016. When the Holy Spirit stirs, an adventure awaits. Let’s all be brave together and see how far we go.
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”