Be Brave and Try Again
by Savannah Roberts
In 2011, I moved away from my home for the first time since 1990. I moved away from the childhood memories as early as preschool, the friends and family who knew me to my core and had watched my struggles and my victories, the adults who had taught me and mentored me, and from all things familiar. I married in my hometown in April and moved to the big city just after the honeymoon. I began my first job in ministry as a part time student minister in August, right as the school year began. Looking back, I still shake my head and marvel at how God brought this to me. By no means was I the most qualified on paper, but God knew my heart and my desire to love young people well in tumultuous years. I was honored to serve in this position for just shy of 3 years and to be mentored by great men and women in ministry. In those years, I worked on a student ministry team to serve students ages 11 through 18, and I in particular worked closely with our Middle School age students in the 6th through 8th grades. As a part of the team, I also worked with the High School students alongside the other student minister on staff and other team members, but my primary focus was with the Middle School students. From youth retreats and conferences, summer camps and mission trips, Bible studies and devotionals, and just hanging out at Waffle House or the teen center at the church building, I was and still am honored to be a small part of the lives of many students. As I reflect on those years, and those ages, I can’t help but notice some significant changes.
It is interesting to observe the changes in these years. While I have never parented a child, let alone during these years, I have had the opportunity to gain some unique perspective. I can vividly remember meeting some of my 6th grade students. Bright eyed and nervous, but mostly excited, as they leave the world of Elementary childhood behind and begin their journey into adolescence with Middle School. There are nerves as they begin to go more frequently on trips with peers without parents, develop friendships outside of parental arrangements, and encounter hardships in life – anywhere from illness of a loved one to bullying and friend drama. More than nerves are excitement. Pure excitement. They are tasting so many things for the first time: freedom, individuality, ownership. I can vividly picture a group of 6th grade boys on their first youth group retreat. First to volunteer for a crazy game, first to volunteer to do the ropes course, first to jump up and run to the mess hall lunch line. They jump in with no regard of fear.
But it doesn’t take long for fear to lurk in and set up camp. Sometimes it happens in the weekend on this first retreat. Sometimes it quietly and slowly creeps in over the next several years.
“What will they think of me?”
“They’re laughing. They’re laughing at me, aren’t they?”
“I shouldn’t have worn these shoes. Dumb idea. I look lame!”
“That was wrong. I’m an idiot! I mean, how stupid could I be?”
“He’ll never like me. I’m such a loser.”
“She’ll go for that guy before she’ll ever even look at me.”
“This whole faith thing seems so hard. Why does it seem easy for everyone else but me?”
“God can’t be there. If He loved me, he wouldn’t let this happen.”
“I’m going to screw this up.”
“I can’t even…”
After almost 3 years in student ministry, I began teaching 9th grade girls at a nearby Christian school. The first year of high school is rough. There is a reason I can remember those years clearly as a 28-year-old married woman. They are engrained in my mind by the many emotions that came with them. It has been such an interesting transition, going from Middle School church work to a Christian high school setting. I saw some of this in my work at the church in the student ministry program, but never in this light. Being at school with students five days a week, as they battle the everyday pressures, anxieties, and tasks, has given me a new insight into what we ask of them in society and how they are responding.
On a daily basis I must be prepared for “the breakdown.” The tears. The short breathing and panicked look. “I just failed that math test. My mom is going to kill me.” “That teacher is ridiculous! Does she/he actually think we are ready for this test?! No way!” “I have five tests today, projects, quizzes, etc… I’m going to fail.” The student who regularly misses class on test day, overcome with anxiety. The frazzled email at 12:30 a.m. asking about a question on the study guide or will there be a written response question on the assessment. The parent conference to discuss the overwhelmed student who can’t seem to emotionally “get it together.”
“I can’t fail.”
“I used to be in art class, but then I realized I’m terrible at art.”
“I’d love to play basketball… but I could never make the team here at our school.”
“I don’t want to audition for the main role… I’ll look like an idiot at auditions!”
“I can’t take that Advanced Placement class! No way! It would kill my GPA.”
“I can’t ask that girl to Homecoming! I’ll look like an idiot.”
“No one will ever ask me to Prom…”
As a teacher, I hear these comments, and they break my heart.
Partially because I remember these emotions, vivid and fresh. Part of me can still feel these feelings. I still operate from these wounds and these fears and lies still creep into my head and my heart.
I currently assist in leading a small group of 10th grade girls once a week, lead by a school counselor at our school. The group is designed to help students gain resiliency. Funny, I need these reminders for myself. I could use some resiliency.
Several weeks ago, the school counselor was gone to a prestigious university for training. I was leading the group this particular day and the counselor and I had decided to discuss the fear of trying something new for fear of failure – the idea that anything we are good at takes trying, failing, and trying again to truly become skilled. I didn’t realize what I had stepped into.
I was inspired by this topic after speaking with a friend who directed me to a TED talk. This TED talk of Reshma Saujani is titled “Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection.” Saujani states that while boys are applauded for their efforts, even in failure, girls are pressured to gain perfection. She points out that while girls score higher in math and sciences, they are less likely to pursue a career in this arena due to the fear of failure. Saujani works in effort to have our young women in the computer sciences and to TRY amidst the possibility of failure.
As we discussed times we have been stifled by fear and walked away instead of trying again (or even trying in the first place), a young lady offered a vulnerable moment to our group I’ll never forget. It was raw and displayed great courage, and I know all could relate. Many shook their head in agreement and solidarity, and I held back tears of understanding. She shared that in Elementary school, starting in the 4th grade, they held student council elections. She handed out baked goods, made t-shirts and posters, and wrote a speech, finally delivering it to her peers. She lost to a classmate. Again, in 5th grade, she ran for student council. Same song second verse. She put forth great effort and did not win the student council race for her 5th grade class, losing to the same classmate again. At this point, she determined several things.
“Something must be wrong with me.”
“I’ll never win anything of any kind if my classmates are voting.”
“I should stop trying to win anything voted on by my peers. I will never run for anything again.”
As she shared, she began to shed tears. And I knew everyone in the room could relate.
Why try if I’m going to fail? If I fail once, then I AM A FAILURE and will always fail.
I was pointed to this topic and TED Talk not by discussing my students, but discussing my own issues with a group of women from my congregation – the ones I do life with. All of us women were voicing our struggle with perfection and the lies we believe and the fear that cripples us. Of course our young people struggle with FEAR. Of course they can’t seem to muster the courage to BE BRAVE and try again or give it a go. The generation before them is faced with fear and stops in their steps, only to leave the current generation full of anxiety. We place our own fears of failure on the generation behind us, and they fear they are lacking in every sense. Be brave, they ask? You aren’t brave. You play it safe. Stay at that job you feel stuck in. Sit quietly amongst your friends and family when you know you have something to offer. Don’t try anything new – you may rock the boat! Who knows, everything could flop. Just stay right where you are, safely surrounded by securities and familiarity. For goodness sake, don’t step out in bravery. You don’t know what might happen…
But that’s just it. You don’t know what might happen!
I believe our Heavenly Father has much more He wants to give us. Are we Brave enough to ask? Are we Brave enough to act, try, fail, and try again? Maybe we will try and succeed. Maybe we won’t. I am sure God has something in store for us, even in the failure. The audacity to try something may lead to failure in one thing, but a gift received in resiliency or realization or something entirely unexpected. I know that many times I hear “Be Brave” and it feels like a daunting task on a grand scale. However, as I have grown, especially in my years of working with young people and as a Bible teacher, I have realized that being brave is in the small things. The small choices to step out, to say something, to try. The small choice to trust when afraid. The small choice to recognize true success comes when I know nothing and fully lean into the unknown where God leads me.
The current phase of my life is titled “babies.” The year 2017 brings the birth of my first child, a son, as well as many friends beginning this journey (Talk about being brave! Motherhood, here we come!). Currently at my school and my church, many families are getting ready for new additions. I am blessed to call my colleagues friends, and that many of us get to do the journey of parenthood together. My fellow teacher across the hallway I get to call one my best friends. How blessed am I? Jessica is just ahead of me in the journey of parenthood. Lincoln was born on November 9, 2016. As Jessica and I have poured our hearts out to young people, we have also gotten to share our hearts with one another as we dream of entering parenthood and what we desire for our children. Jessica and her husband David lean into this concept of bravery. Jessica says this:
“I believe that Bravery is about doing what is right. I see it as akin to being just. When we first talked about our son's name though, we worried that he would resent us because he might feel like he couldn't live up to a name as strong as "Lincoln Brave Ly." We worried that kids may pressure him to do something harmful by saying, "but aren't you supposed to be brave?" You see, the world thinks bravery means that one takes what he wants and uses power and muscle to control life. That isn't brave though. To be Brave is to be dependent on God in the middle of the darkness. So, we decided to follow our hope and not our fear. We identify our son as someone who we will teach to stand up for what is right according to the Lord, and not according to man. We want him to "bravely" walk with Jesus in a world that has forgotten him. We want him to bravely speak with bold love when others are speaking hatefully. We hope he fights for the oppressed, and stands up against all kinds of evil through the avenue of loving kindness. I've always loved President Lincoln, and thought, how strong the names would go together. We hope he is humble and trusts in the Lord instead of in his own ideas. We hope and pray that he is a man who lives his life for others, and knows true joy through his service. That is brave. That is why we named him Lincoln Brave Ly.”
At a shower for Lincoln, I reflected on Jessica and David’s heart for their little man, as well as their heart for this young generation that they pour their lives into as educators. I kept thinking that bravery is in the small things. And I kept thinking of all the brave ones in the Old Testament scriptures I teach. And I realized they were often afraid. They often doubted. They often floundered in failure in their own way before they found the Lord’s plan for them. This brought me back to thinking about being brave to try and step out instead of striving for perfection.
Abraham was not perfect. And he wasn’t always fighting the kings of the north with just more than 300 men. He was choosing to be brave in the journey to the new land. And he failed to trust on a regularly basis. But in failure he learned bravery and that God is faithful.
Gideon was a scaredy-cat and the least of his family. The last one thought to lead God’s people in battle. But one step at a time, Gideon took men away from his army at God’s request. One step at a time, he chose to be brave and trust God’s plan.
David was a man after God’s own heart and known for his battle skills. But David also brought the kingdom down with one fatal swoop of his own sin. Full of lust, he lied and committed adultery and murder. And yet after a confrontation from the prophet Nathan, David repented and continued to trust God’s way. Not perfect. Not free from failure. But continuing to be brave.
Hosea was asked to do something that made absolutely no sense. And you know the people of God thought he was crazy! Hosea took the prostitute Gomer as his wife, again and again, even as she cheated on him and ran away with other men. And yet, Hosea trusted God, bravely taking back a woman who did not reciprocate love for him. Hosea’s bravery led him to a place no one else would understand, but would be a direct message from God to Israel.
I pray for bravery for my generation of men and women, and the generation that is rising up behind us. I pray for the trying of something new again and again and the embracing of failure. I pray for full reliance on Jesus and the Father and the Spirit, and a letting go of self-reliance and preservation. I pray for the bravery of saying “Me, too” and “I’m with you.” I pray for the bravery of vulnerability and doing the adventure life in community. Bravery doesn’t always make sense. And it definitely doesn’t guarantee success that is lacking failure. But this bravery that is settled in a trusting of God and not of self, this bravery is the good way to live. It’s the best kind of life success! It’s full of goodness and adventure, and that even in the unknown, the living in God’s story is the best story.