Courage and Story-telling

Stories. Identity. Our stories, others’ stories that impact or move us…our identities.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately on the connection between these things, stories and identity, and occasionally, the notion of courage has flitted in on the peripherals of this ongoing conversation. Today, however, it marched straight into the center of my thought and sat down. Here’s how.

This afternoon I watched a diverting and encouraging talk by Dr. Brené Brown at the recommendation of one of my professors. The following excerpt from her talk gets at the heart of her subject, and is the part of her lecture that I found to be the most meaningful to me.

…And so here’s what I found. What [these ‘whole-hearted people living from a sense of worthiness’] had in common was a sense of courage…Courage – the original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language, it’s from the Latin word Coeur, meaning heart, and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first, and then to others, because as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. And the last was they had connection – and this was the hard part – as a result of authenticity. They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, which is – you have to, absolutely, do that for connection. The other thing that they had in common was this: they fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful…

And earlier today, in an American Lit class, I watched (for the second time in two days) another clip from a different intellectual woman who, though her work appears at first to be very different from Dr. Brown’s (Dr. Brown is a social work researcher; the second woman, Sandra Cisneros, is a fiction writer and poet), said something very similar along the lines of courage and story-telling.

…I’m convinced that writer’s block doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to say. Writer’s block means you’re afraid to say what you really have to say.

Like Dr. Brown, Cisneros seems to think that courage is indispensable for telling the true story of who you are, the story that is most fully yours to tell. Authentic story-telling and authentic living alike (and I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the two are inextricably intertwined) requires courage…and for me personally, I think the source of that courage must be my trust in a God who characterizes Himself as a story-teller (“the author and finisher of our faith” description in Hebrews 12:2 is just one example), and who is recorded as saying something along these lines to one of His servants on more than one occasion: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

I think, too, of the opening verses of Psalm 121: “I lift my eyes up to the hills – Where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

This does not absolve my own responsibility to faithfully and courageously engage in the work of telling my story, and in living it well; but it does remind me that I am not alone, that my story is only up to me to a certain extent, and that my courage and help come from something (or Someone, rather) much greater than myself.

Where does yours come from?

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