Bravery, like most things in life, is learned. To develop it, one must practice.
However, it is the very rare young man who wants to practice being brave. Many will be eager to prove that they are already brave, which is why young men do crazy, dangerous, reckless things – to prove to themselves and others that they have no fear. So they drive motorcycles too fast, and drive cars too fast, and drive motorized vehicles of various other sorts and sizes too fast.
But this isn’t brave.
Brave and reckless both involve confronting danger, but there is a difference. The brave man confronts danger because he must, or because he should. There is a reason to do it: a damsel to be defended, a child to be saved, a principle to be upheld. Brave is daring all because it will honor God.
A reckless young man risks life and limb for no reason at all.
It’s courageous vs. crazy. And no matter how many times a young man might do wild dangerous things, it won’t help him learn how to be brave. Bravery has a purpose to it, and to develop bravery a young man must confront danger with the right aim in mind.
This is bravery
So how can a young man practice being brave?
By doing brave things for the right reasons. God wants us take risks, so long as they are the right sort. He wants us defending what is true, and beautiful, no matter the opposition.
So a young man can practice being brave by asking out that godly girl he’s always been interested in. She might say no, and that is quite a danger to face. But she might say yes, and that’s reason enough to risk it.
He can tell his friends he isn’t going to go drinking with them this weekend, but that if they want to come over they can shoot hoops. Or go rollerblading. Or watch the game together. Or watch the game and then at halftime play an epic match of rollerblade basketball (being brave can involve some creativity too). Proposing ideas risks having them shot down and labeled “lame.” That could happen, because being brave doesn’t mean everything will go your way. A brave man understands that failure is possible, and sometimes even likely. He knows there might be a cost. But he also knows that his peers’ wrath doesn’t compare to God’s pleasure.
A young man could also practice bravery by wearing an explicitly Christian shirt on his secular campus. This is provocative, but not foolhardy. Some students and professors are sure to hate it, but other Christians will be encouraged to learn they aren’t alone on campus after all.
Maybe he could volunteer as a firefighter. I know two young men who are ready to put their lives on the line for a very good reason indeed: to save the lives of others.
And a young man who wants to grow and develop his bravery could volunteer at a public pro-life event. In recent years dozens of young men have been among those setting up massive pro-life flag displays across Canada. They know abortion is an issue that gets some people angry, yelling, and hysterical. It takes courage to be involved. But they understand this is important. They are ready to risk anger to advocate for the defenseless.
We want our young men to learn how to be brave, but we don’t want them to be reckless with the life and limbs God has given them. So to foster their bravery let’s encourage our young men to do dangerous, risky, important things.
A version of this article first appeared in the October 2014 issue