Bravery Has An Underbelly


“When I am willing to look honestly at my heart and all that it holds–the hopes and dreams and opinions and experiences and fears–then that will be my first step toward true bravery.”

The image is burned into our knowing: the brave wield swords and slay dragons, they swoop into fiery buildings, they gallop into dark nights and stand stoically in the face of fear. Brave people do hard things.

I, however, have always felt more at home crouched small in the tight and cramped underbelly of someone else’s shell of bravery.  The proper home for my thinner blood and skin has consistently been hidden below the vast casing of another’s courage. Valiant and stouthearted I am not.

And then I hear stories of real women around the globe whose very waking is an act of bravery; women whose lives are daily marked by decisions between lesser evils and unrequited hope. I am schooled in the prevalence of human trafficking and the pains of hunger and I am confronted with my ready wealth and comfort.

It is then that I feel the weight of my brave costume most acutely and the truth of my position is revealed.

I am someone who hides from danger and risk and mean people and thunderstorms, all the while, expecting others to shield me from it all.

I make it through hard things by soliciting surrogate strength.

In short, I am fearful.

But if I really listen to the stories of other women who personify bravery, to those who piece together the bone and flesh of resilience and wrap themselves in valor, I would recognize the truth:

-below every source of strength there is an exposed place.

The underbelly of bravery is vulnerability.

Vulnerability is most often perceived as a weakness or a liability and in complete opposition to bravery. In so many ways, our vulnerability is the very place where we are susceptible to injury, one of the first places we are attacked, or that tender place that receives criticism most acutely.

But perhaps this “weak” spot is actually a portal.

Brene Brown, PhD., LMSW has spent over a decade researching vulnerability and courage and she speaks directly to this realization. Her research and analysis show that, although vulnerability is at the core of anxiety and fear, it is also the “birthplace of joy, of love, of belonging, of creativity and of faith.”

Vulnerability is the crack that can let the light in.

Being brave requires that I be vulnerable.

When I am willing to look honestly at my heart and all that it holds–the hopes and dreams and opinions and experiences and fears–then that will be my first step toward true bravery. I will find that I am merely exalting bravado if I paint bravery with large strokes of action only.

To be brave, I must come out from under my shell. It is too dark under there, anyway.

And maybe, if you join me, together we won’t “go gentle into that dark night.” Rather, we will go bravely into all that comes at us.  For our bravery comes from strength of heart and openness, from giving thanks in all things, and from opening our eyes to the glory burned right round.

“Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”—Brene Brown


Image credit: Oh Rustico by Tim_in_Ohio on flickr

Holly Grantham
Holly is a wife, very relaxed homeschooling mom of three boys, snapper of photos, coming of age writer and a soul drowning in grace. After years in Atlanta where she attended college, married the love of her life and lived in an intentional community, she found her way back to her home state of Missouri. She now lives in an antebellum stone house, raises chickens (sometimes) and pretends that she lives in the country.
Holly Grantham

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  1. Holly, Thank you. I hadn’t considered vulnerability in a while. As I’m hearing from God about being naked, and praying about it, just today I realized how afraid I am of being completely vulnerable about many of the ways my eating disorder affected those I love. Thank you for the reminder that vulnerability is brave and that it is beautiful.

    • Oh Abby, you are not alone in that fear, friend. Being vulnerable is choosing to open yourself to the truth and that can be painful. But the truth is also what sets us free. That is a promise.
      I pray that as you walk this road of truth, confronting and naming what is and what has been, the Spirit of grace and mercy will drip generously on your heart.
      You are brave. You are beautiful.

  2. “To be brave, I must come out from under my shell. It is too dark under there, anyway.” Love this. And your meek yet brave, beautiful, vulnerable heart.

    • Thank you, Elizabeth. Something tells me that I am not the only hiding in the dark. Let us come out together, shall we?

  3. Claire De Boer cjdeboer says:

    Holly, this piece in itself is so vulnerable. I love that you’ve connected bravery to vulnerability — like you, all my previous images have been about rescuing people from burning building, slaying dragons, etc. But to connect bravery with vulnerability – that’s a truth I hadn’t considered before. Thank you. xo

    • Nor had I, Claire. But considering the connection has challenged me in new and expansive ways. Thank you for your kind words here and for the encouragement to lean into these hard places.

  4. YEOWZA! Love this and you.

    Favourite thought: “weak” spot is actually a portal.”

    *chewing on that as I eat lunch*

    #manypotentialportalscometomind 🙂

    • On Teen, let us chew on this together. I am STILL chewing on this concept. But if portals are gateways think of what opens up for us when we embrace vulnerability?

  5. “Vulnerability is the crack that can let the light in.” Love this!

    • Isn’t that a powerful thought? I am so glad that the Spirit whispered that in my ear as I pondered all of these thoughts.

  6. Would you know that my “One Word” for this year is Brave?! Holly, I so needed your revelation today. Thank you, many times over.


    • We are here for each other, friend. Community is God’s way of entering into our humanness, again and again, So glad to be doing all of it with you!

  7. unrequited hope, surrogate strength, wrapped in valor… so many powerful words and ideas here. Lovely, Holly. Vulnerability is the crack that let’s the light in… reminds me of the cracked pots Paul speaks of if in Corinthians! Our cracks can avail us of good, even bravery!

    • Thank you, Kelley. Amazing, isn’t it, that our weakness is the very place where God’s strength is made manifest? And, yes, our cracks can avail us of good. Glory be!

  8. God is comforting me right now through your words, Holly. I’ve released the anxiety, physical pain, knots & butterflies in my stomach and letting my vulnerability lead me to the place where I know only triggers and nightmares await. But with your message clutched in my hand, I know by the end of it all, I will be rejoicing in the light praising, “I did it!” Your words couldn’t have been written in a better time 🙂 I’m blessed, thank you.

    • Rejoicing with you, Jane, that the God who hears our very hearts also desires to move in and cover us with grace, raising every valley, lowering every mountain and hill, making the rough ground level, the rugged places plain.

      I am blessed by your words, friend, knowing that your dark and vulnerable places are the cracks that will let in the Light.

      Brave on, my dear, brave on.

  9. BrennaDA says:

    Oh, thank you, Holly!

  10. Yes, Holly. Well said.
    Honesty with our own brokenness is at the same time both the most vulnerable and the most courageous place.
    So fantastic the way truth really does set free.
    Thanks, girl. Blessed by you today.

    • That idea is not intuitive at all, that to be vulnerable is to also be courageous but you are absolutely right–the truth of that sets us free!

  11. Elizabeth says:

    Bravo!! Brave can tremble and does. Brave can shudder and it does. Standing meak in the face of fear, yet standing in pools of trust and hope with hands cup to receive…love, encouragement, joy, life, increased faith, and all the He has for us. I love where you took this. Into the beautiful, friend. Into the brave.

    • Oh Elizabeth I love the image of standing in pools of trust and hope–beautiful!
      I want to always wade in those waters. Let us stand together, with hands cupped.

  12. Yes! The uncertainty and timidity, it’s all so necessary for our faith growing.

    • It goes against everything that our culture dictates, to embrace the uncertainty and timidity, but I do believe that such small actions can and will change the world. Join me?


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