Am I Being Brave, Or Just Stupid?

If we’re honest, we have all asked ourselves this question:  Am I being courageous or just stupid? It isn’t always easy to tell the difference especially in the moment. Often, it’s easier for us to evaluate someone else’s choices and much harder when it comes to our own. How do we know if we are being brave and wise or if we are making poor decisions?

Single mom, Marissa shares that this is a challenge for her too. A year after she lost her husband, she felt like she was on an island, parenting her kids alone, without family nearby. She chose to give up her job, move out of state, and live with her sister.  She thought that restarting her life in a way she could control would be better for her and her kids. But, nine months later, she and her sister weren’t getting along, and she hated her job. She found herself looking back at what she thought was a brave, courageous decision and realized what she was seeking had nothing to do with needing to be in a new location. Her decision to move was not the answer. Instead of it being a bold move of courage, it was an attempt to forge a new way herself. God had other ideas. Within two months, she received a job offer in Tennessee and she moved back with her sons.  Like many single parents who are facing big changes to their lives, we sometimes react quickly, and want to run away or toward something new or something we think will be less painful, when that is not always the answer.

Single mom, Elizabeth shares a time she recognized in hindsight that she was not being courageous but rather was stupid. Elizabeth says she is a recovering codependent and often found herself filling one of several codependent roles in the “Brahms Triangle” as a “perpetrator, a victim, or a rescuer”. Her pattern most often was to bounce from being a perpetrator to a rescuer.  She would stand up for others, go to bat for them, and fight on their behalf. She sees now that she was misguided and was acting from a place of codependency. At the time she thought she was being courageous. In the middle of it, it seemed like the “right” thing to do but she can see now her motivation was not wise and her efforts were not brave.

Kimberley shares that she can look back now and see decisions she thought were brave at the time but that were stupid. She made a move while she was pregnant with her first child as way to find a new start. That move she can now see was clearly wrong, but she did it anyway. She also knows now that she stayed in her marriage way too long to protect her family from censure and from a sense of obligation and a legalistic belief about what it means to follow Jesus. Looking back, she endured way more than she needed to in her relationship with her now ex-husband. What seemed like a courageous choice was harmful. God sees us in our stupidity and has compassion on us in the middle of it. He helps us learn and move forward despite our bad decisions.

Robert shares that he thought he was being brave and strong when he thought he could overcome addiction in his family - if he just did enough. He kept thinking, if he just pushed for one more rehabilitation center or one more treatment for this person, that he could “beat addiction”. Codependency often tells us that if we just do more, then our loved one may get the help they need. It lies to us and pushes us to own more of another person’s problem than they are willing to own themselves. Robert found himself facing that very thing. He wanted to be the rescuer. He wanted to be the one to drive the change he wanted to see in his family and in his loved one. He was doing all he could to push for an outcome that, ultimately, was out of his control. Looking back, he can see how futile those efforts were, but at the time it felt very brave and courageous to strive and push toward the outcome he hoped for even though the addiction wasn’t his problem to solve.

Sometimes, we start out on a course with good motives – like recognizing we need a fresh start or wanting to speak up on behalf of those who need a voice, or wanting to follow God’s plan for marriage, or even seeking help for a loved one trapped in addiction. These motivations come from a good place. Sometimes, our first steps can even be courageous ones and come from a place of wanting to act in the face of fear or uncertainty. However, what starts out with good motives can quickly turn into stupidity when we lose track of our boundaries and wellbeing.

For everyone who can look back in hindsight and see now that some of their choices were not so courageous after all but were rather foolish, you are not alone! Not only do we all experience this in one way or another, but there are also plenty of biblical examples of people who have found themselves in the same predicament. Abraham and Sarah, David, and so many others have made big mistakes that God has had to come back and correct. We aren’t so different. We need His intervention and help too, and in the process, we learn important lessons.

So how do we know the difference between courage and stupidity?

Walking through healing of codependency has helped Elizabeth began to know the difference. Reading “Codependent No More” by Melodie Beatty helped her identify patterns and behaviors that masqueraded as courage but really came from a place of not knowing her own heart and needs well enough. She used to take on other people’s stories, problems, and feelings and try to manage them rather than allowing them to have autonomy and to be responsible for themselves. She now understands that she only needs to own her story and her feelings and not oversee anyone else. A key factor is becoming self-aware and asking ourselves “What is driving this decision? What is behind my motivation?” Sometimes we find ourselves acting from a place of control because we are afraid. When our lives go a completely different direction than we hoped and planned, we sometimes believe that if we can just control the situation or another person, all will be well. But control is an illusion. We don’t have that kind of power. We are not in control. Our power is found in releasing the unknowns to God and asking Him to be with us in it.

Prayer and seeking God in His word are important elements in helping us know the difference too. The Bible is our guide for life. 1 Corinthians 16:13 says, “Be watchful. Stand firm in the faith. Act like men. Be strong. Let all that do be done in love.” “Keep your eyes open. Hold tight to your convictions. Give it all you’ve got. Be resolute and love without stopping.” We have to bring everything to Him. We can listen to voices around us but ultimately, we must listen to God and what He tells us to do. If there’s no peace in something we want to do, we need to stay where we are and be content. We cannot move ahead until He tells us to take another step. Following God’s lead is the opposite of acting impulsively. Take time to seek Him in prayer and in His word. Let Him guide you and don’t make a big decision until you have peace. Choose to respond intentionally instead of reacting in the moment or too quickly. Taking time to think and reflect before you act allows God to speak to you and guide your steps.

Another way to recognize courage versus stupidity is by asking yourself “What role is my ego playing in this decision?” Our ego can lead us to pridefully try to exert our will on a situation or choose what we want or what feels good in the moment. Ego doesn’t acknowledge our humanity and limitations. It puts us in the driver’s seat and tells us that we know best apart from other input, counsel, or guidance. Proverbs 13:10 says, “Arrogance leads to nothing but strife, but wisdom is gained by those who take advice.” Ego and fear drive us to act from our own self-will and to exert control. Humility, on the other hand, acts in submission to God which means being willing to wait for His guidance and rely on His word for direction. Staying in awareness of God and His role in our lives helps us take a thoughtful stance to act in submission to His authority. Instead of letting our ego be in charge, we can check ourselves by asking, “Am I submitting to the Spirit or is my ego leading this decision or action? Am I acting from a place of pride and fear or am I acting from a place of trust in God and in His guidance?” Proverbs 28:26 says, “Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe.” When we trust ourselves more than we trust God and the wisdom of His word, this is a key indicator our ego is in charge. And, when our ego is involved, we often act foolishly rather than courageously.

The Old Testament tells the story of Abraham and Sarah who tried to take matters into their own hands to have a child. Their fear that God wouldn’t show up led them to act from a place of self-will. Instead of waiting for God to provide as He said He would, they chose to do things their own way and that decision led from one sinful action to another. They chose self-reliance instead of relying on God. Instead of trusting Him and accepting that He would do things His own way and in His own time, they acted out and tried to make it happen in their own strength.

Courage often looks like restraint and waiting patiently while trusting God, but there are times, we must act. Being passive can be stupidity too. God sometimes calls us to walk around the walls of Jericho and blow a trumpet. That likely seemed strange at the time, but we know God had specific reasons for that specific direction. For us, His direction can sometimes seem unusual too. But if you are being thoughtful and prayerful and not acting from a place of control or from your ego, when God calls us to take a specific step, it is courageous and wise to obey. Drawing boundaries might be one example. If you are in a situation that is toxic or unhealthy, you may need to use boundaries to protect yourself and your children. Sometimes boundaries can seem stupid when really, they are courageous steps. Just waiting it out isn’t courageous but may be enabling and allowing a bad situation or behavior to continue unchecked. In all humility, this isn’t about ego, God you are faithful, creating a boundary is necessary too.

There is no black and white here. Each of our decisions needs to be evaluated carefully and brought before God. Sometimes waiting is the courageous step and sometimes it’s acting. If you’re unsure of a course of action, use these steps as a guide and always ask God for wisdom. James 1:5 tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

Another key element to know if you’re being courageous or stupid is seeking counsel. When we need strength and wisdom when it comes to a decision, we can lean on other trusted people as godly resources in our lives. Ecclesiastes 4:13 says, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” It takes humility to ask trusted mentors, pastors, or friends for their godly input, but it is an essential step. The Bible talks about this numerous times:

Proverbs 11:14 says, “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.”
Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.”
Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”

Finally, 1 Corinthians 10:12 says, “So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall” but the Message expands on this saying, “Don’t be so naïve and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence. It’s useless. Cultivate God confidence.” This shows the fine line between foolishness and courage and how careful we need to be to recognize it. It also reminds us that we don’t gain wisdom or God confidence overnight. That is something we cultivate – intentionally, persistently, over time.  

Elizabeth shares that in making the choice recently to make a significant career change, she wanted to rush ahead and leave her old position at the beginning of 2020. If she had followed her own sense of urgency, “It would have been stupid to leave in 2020 right at the start of the pandemic. God held me back and then called me into something courageous.”  Following His lead brought her through a journey of specific measured steps that brought healing and growth that led her to launch her own business this year.  

There are times we don’t want to wait. Maybe we don’t to feel the hurt of our circumstances. Maybe we don’t want to allow space and time to heal and grow before deciding. We want to see God move now and that is when we tend to rush ahead with our own decisions. Sometimes God’s move doesn’t come quickly. Instead, He asks us to trust Him in the wait. Sometimes it takes a long time but when we submit to Him, the outcome is always better. A Bible scholar shares that it took the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to save us. Jesus was born and could have been sacrificed right then with no sin and would have paid the penalty. He didn’t need to remedy the salvation of man by living thirty three years but God used those years to show miracles and lessons we need to know about God incarnate.

When we make mistakes, when we are stupid instead of courageous, shame can come crashing in, but we have a God who empathizes with us in our weakness. He tells us to come to His throne of grace with confidence to receive the mercy and find help we need. So, rest in that grace. Be patient with yourself. Often it is our failures, the times we are “stupid”, that builds our muscle of courage. Our mistakes can teach us how to draw near to God and how to reach out for connection in healing ways. This process takes time, but it also builds the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Marissa reminds us, “God doesn’t waste our experiences. Our beautiful Redeemer can take anything, even our “stupid”, and turn it into His courageous, and make it something beautiful.”

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