One year ago today, my son Coen was born. Roughly two weeks after that, I wrote a blog post to explain the meaning of his name. Coen is Dutch for “brave,” and it’s a name I hope he lives into. I hope both of my sons will be brave the way Jesus was brave.
That’s how I felt, and that’s how I still feel today. But. Here’s what I didn’t count on: Coen has NO FEAR. Like, zero fear. I’m not kidding you. Almost everywhere we go, the boy barrels into crowds, beelines toward open stairwells, and splats himself across hardwood floors again and again and again. And then keeps on running.
Nearly every day of the week, someone shakes their head at me and worries, “He has NO fear!” And I nod–because it’s true–while I shudder inside. I wanted Coen to be brave, but not THAT brave.
I’ve had that thought numerous times in the last month. I want Coen to be brave, but not that brave. I mean, a little fear is healthy, right? The kid needs SOME inhibitions to keep him from diving head first down the stairs…which he would do, if we didn’t stop him. Is this God’s way of playing a joke on us? Is this a lesson about being “careful what you pray for”? Kind of like how no one prays for humility?
I don’t have answers to those questions, but the whole thing has challenged me on my own understanding of courage, especially as it relates to my kids.
A little over ten years ago, I thought God was calling me to Liberia. I was praying about it very seriously and, not surprisingly, my parents were freaking out. They were scared to death, but amazingly, they responded with a lot of grace. They decided to pray and fast alongside of me, and I will never forget the moment my mom said this: “I have realized that if God calls you somewhere, He is calling me too. If He calls you to Liberia, my call is to support you.”
I think that’s pretty awesome. Especially since I have watched other parents respond differently. I worked in college ministry for a long time, and I can’t tell you the number of Christian parents that refused to support their college-aged kid’s decision to go on a mission trip. Just a short, two week mission trip! So major props to my parents, whose 5’2″ daughter wanted to live in Liberia ALONE for a year.
Now that I’m a mother myself, those experiences have shaped my parenting. When I think, “I want Coen to be brave, but not too brave,” it’s a real heart check. No, I don’t want him to be foolish or reckless, but I also have to ask myself: am I serious about supporting my boys, wherever God calls them? Even if it’s dangerous? Even if it’s hard?
If you have read any of my writing at all, you know that “cutesy courage” is a personal pet peeve. I am not a fan of hashtag courage–the kind you see on Etsy chalkboards and Hallmark wall art–which calls us to little more than a warm feeling in our hearts. That kind of courage lacks direction, and I’m not sure it’s calling us to anything at all. More likely, it’s something we can hide behind. We don’t have to be brave as long as we feel brave.
Kids, however, are a challenge to lame courage. The desire to make our kids brave collides with the desire to keep our kids safe. They force us to ask whether we are truly committed to Christ-like courage. When you say you want your kids to be brave, do you really mean it?
Do you want them to risk their safety, or their reputation, for truth?
Do you want them to take the hard road, if that’s where Jesus leads them?
Do you want them to risk getting teased, or even humiliated, for standing up for what’s right?
Do you want them to risk being an outcast, by speaking up for those without a voice?
Do you want them to sacrifice opportunity, to serve the poor, or the needy?
Do you want them to follow God’s call if it means less security?
Do you want them to follow God’s call if it takes them away from you?
These are the questions that courages demands we face, and what I’m beginning to realize is this: I cannot pray for my son to be brave without also praying to be brave myself. The truth is, I can be the biggest obstacle to my son’s courage. I can be the thing that holds him back. I can undermine my own prayers.
That’s why, throughout the last year, I have altered my prayers a bit. I still pray that both my sons will be brave. I really hope they will be, and not in a cutesy, Pinterest-inspirational-quote kind of way. I hope they will take the kind of risks that Jesus took, which are only “foolish” in the worldly sense of the term. I hope they are wise, but I hope they are bold, for the sake of Christ and others.
But now, I also pray for the courage to parent them that way. I hope to be the kind of mother that launches her children, rather than hanging on, desperately trying to protect them. I have a feeling that’s a much harder ideal than I can understand right now, but that’s why I’m praying about it now.
That’s where my heart and my prayers are today, so I’ll close with this message for my sweet birthday boy: Happy first birthday to Coen, my brave one! You are more courageous than I ever imagined, and I praise God for that. May God make me the kind of mother who stewards your courage well.