A soldier’s daughter.

I’ve just listened to President Zelensky’s speech to the House of Commons. Over and over again he said ‘brave’. The soldiers and pilots of Ukraine are brave. The history of the United Kingdom is brave. The mothers and fathers who wait for the return of their brave daughters and sons are brave. Brave. Brave. It’s impossible for me to listen without responding, without loving the very concept of bravery. It was a good speech, heartfelt, brave.

I am a soldier’s daughter, a soldier’s sister, and I was a soldier. I grew up with the ideal of bravery all around me. My dad was at Dunkirk, he served in Africa, in the troubles of Cyprus, and later one brother was an infantryman in Ulster, one was a gunnery officer on warships. Me? I just strolled around Catterick Garrison doing as little as possible.

But I grew up understanding the idea of service, of command structures, loyalty and discipline. It wasn’t the wallpaper of my first seven years, it was the stuff of life, the foundation. One of my few early memories is of playing at our Army quarters in Omagh, me and another child, with my mother (who died soon after) play-marching to an Anne Shelton song…. ‘March at the double down lover’s lane…..’ ending with a glorious crescendo ‘ lay down your arms, lay down your arms and surrender to miiiii….ne.’ and then, I’m sure, we finished with a salute. All of life was Army, the comics we read, the stories we heard, the sights we saw, and overlying it all was the concept of bravery.

To be brave is to serve an ideal, facing terrible odds, knowing and accepting that by doing so you are placing your own life in danger. That is, I believe, entirely admirable. There are not many states of human consciousness that I would say are entirely admirable – we’re a confused and conflicted lot when it comes to self vs others, but the very meaning of bravery is selflessness in danger.

But we are human and we muck up just about everything we turn to. I know that alongside the quality of bravery comes our frailty and brave people aren’t always good. That’s something I learned growing up in a family full to overflowing with brave people! They have their off days. My Dad was not a great dad (who is?) and my brothers were completely impossible. Fortunately I was perfect so…..

There are no perfect people, not one, and when brave people are exhausted, starving, cold, grieving, broken, they can do bad things. Cruel things. And that’s the reality of war. And if the very ideal we are fighting for is twisted and evil, what of bravery then? I’m sure that many who died fighting under the swastika were, personally, brave. I’m sure that many who serve the foul and murderous ISIS are, personally, brave. And many of those frightened young Russian conscripts, right now, invading a peaceful country, are – even as they kill and maim – brave.

So, bravery in and of itself is not enough. It can, with our help, go horribly wrong. It can tip over into hatred and persecution, machismo, misogyny, even genocide.

There is something even more precious than bravery, something more internalised, truer, more long-lasting, and that’s courage. What’s the difference? I think that courage is a way of life, bravery is an action. If a building is burning with someone inside it, and we run to the rescue, that’s bravery. When Ukraine stands up to Putin, knowing that this will require more than an act of derring-do, but months or years of unremitting slog and hardship and loss, accepting the cost, that’s courage. Bravery is now, courage is long term. Bravery is a flash in the pan, courage is steadfast and deep.

We don’t have to be in a war to be courageous. Sometimes the most mundane life demands deep courage. An unwelcome diagnosis, a poor prognosis, old age, or even poverty demand our courage. Standing up for a friend who’s being bullied, can demand it. Sacrificing what we have for those who don’t have enough, that can demand courage. Living with loneliness or depression, and somehow stepping out into the world day after day, takes a deal of real cold courage. Bravery may last only a minute or an hour or a day or the length of a war. Courage is something we hold within ourselves, for life. A pacifist can be a courageous, indeed many pacifists have faced death with courage rather than deny their faith.

Eleven times in the Old Testament the people of Israel are told ‘be strong and courageous’. In the New Testament Jesus encouraged us to take heart, not to be afraid. Someone with more patience than me has counted all the times the Bible tells us not to be afraid, to take heart and similar, and it comes to the grand total of 365. One for every day of the year. Have you had your daily dose of ‘take courage’?

OK, I’ll do it for you; Take courage!  

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

They (the righteous) will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear
; Psalm 112:7

Courage is a way of life for the Christian, and it’s something even the most mouse-like of us can develop, because courage is a gift of God, and we can ask for it. It’s part knowledge, trust, faith, hope and love. Courage can run through us like blood, rich in iron. Rich and powerful and bringing life and renewal. And here’s the thing I realised today – if we really know the goodness of God, really understand who he is and what he has done for us, and how much he loves us, if we are immersed in the Word so that we live in and it lives in us, then courage is a natural result. Inevitable. From one comes the other. The Word creates it. If today you are feeling less than courageous, if you’re anxious or doubting the future, just read this little nudge and feel this arm around your shoulder:

Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” Psalm 31:24

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my glorious right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

4 thoughts on “A soldier’s daughter.

  1. Courage: exactly the thing. Central to everything, and you explain it so well, esp relative to bravery. If only we could give it to our children, so that they didn’t have to so painfully acquire it on their own. Best transmission is by is your living example. Thank you for sharing it with your readers.


  2. That was very en couraging.
    You made a good distinction between bravery and courage. Made me think of the civil rights non violent demonstrators in America who marched knowing they would suffer horrible violence by police and others. That took courage.
    I listen to Newscast where they interviewed the Speaker of the House. He said he cried during the speech and said he had never seen so many other parliamentarians cry. The hall was packed with everyone standing up.


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