Wearing the Word Brave


It’s dark in here, I told him, but all the lights in the room are on. It’s the first thing I can think of to explain my knees bouncing and my teeth chattering, even though I’m not cold.

I am out of control.

I am helpless, at the mercy of my brain.

I am utterly terrified.

I used to run from the fear. But it followed me from church to church, friendship to friendship, argument to argument. I would fall asleep gripped with terror, clinging to anything in reach until I learned to cling to myself, to cling to the hope that joy comes in the morning.

I used to fight the fear. I would bare my teeth and roar, but the cold would still seep into my bones and I’d still find myself shivering. Fear was the great archenemy of my soul, and so I took on every battle and sought everything I could to eradicate the terror like it was a cancer.

I used to outlearn the fear. If I just knew enough, if I read enough books and conducted enough research and found words to explain the panic, it would go away like breaking a magic spell. So I studied history, psychology, sociology, poetry, art, whatever I could to understand the mystery of the human condition. Knowledge is power, I would say, tattooing the word brave on my neck and going on coffee dates with strangers and giving speeches.

You are fearless, they would say in awe. I wish I were as strong as you. And I used to let them say it and not correct them, because it felt nice and I craved their admiration. But if I could go back, I would have stopped them. I would have said, Thank you very much, but I’m afraid you’re wrong.

I am not fearless. I am not strong. Fear stares me in the face every day of my life, and I have moments where I crumble and weep in the face of struggle. I have known very few days without struggle, and the days without struggle, my anxiety-brain makes a struggle out of the lack-of-struggle. Because the lie my brain tells me is that if life is not hard, life is not worth living.

And if some people feel like frauds, being in leadership with anxiety is like impostor syndrome on steroids because all I feel qualified to do is to say, me too. Me. Too.

I wear the word brave because it is my anthem, my war cry, the pumping of my heart that says I can’t be perfect, but I can wake up every morning and promise to show up, and that’s exactly what courage is. I will never be fearless, but brave is sticking it out because I know there’s an end to the tunnel. I will never be flawless, but brave is putting myself out there anyway, because the act of vulnerability is valuable. I will continue to fail, but brave is seeing failure as a lesson instead of a final grade.

These days, I’m learning to live and make peace with my fear. I am learning that fear and peace come and go in waves in my life, often without warning. It is not because I am a bad Christian or leader, not because I am immature or weak or a failure. I may feel like a failure in this moment, but that is not consistent of my character every minute or every day or every year of my life.

I will pick up.

I will move forward.

I will grow.

I will remember that I am a process, not a project to complete.

I will never master the fear. But the fear will never master me. And at least, for now, I can live with that.

Hannah Schaefer
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