“Our best shot at creating safety is to keep working on it ourselves first.”
People around me are used to me using the word “safe” a lot. I can talk about safe people, safe communities, safe spaces until I’m blue in the face because I think “becoming safer” is a big part of living out a downwardly mobile life. However, I also keep realizing there is a lot of misunderstanding about what the word “safe” means. To some, it means watered down, tame, or mild. It means somehow having conflict-free places where there are no waves or tension.
Nothing could be further from the truth!
Real safety is something far deeper than meets the eye. It’s about a radical love and acceptance in relationship that allows for us to be our true selves and to wrestle with hard things out loud. It’s about being valued for who we are, just as we are. It’s about bringing our messes to the surface without fear of judgment or rejection. It’s about being able to share our beliefs and feelings about God without being critiqued. It’s about having a container that catalyzes transformation and growth.
Safety is about somehow being uncomfortable but comfortable at the same time.
Years ago when I started participating in a life-changing women’s group, I remember how truly terrified I was of being honest. I could feel the pull to bring my real story of struggling with shame and pain and feelings of insecurity to the surface, but everything inside of me screamed, “Don’t do it, they’ll never like you again! Once they really know you, they’re sure to leave you!” But their honesty pulled me in, and as I put my toe in the water and spoke my truth, I found that I didn’t die.
And they didn’t leave. It sure wasn’t comfortable; in fact, sometimes I felt like I was crawling out of my skin after I shared, but it was the beginning of true transformation for me—spiritually, emotionally, and practically. A safe space helped me become a safer person.
This month’s focus at Sheloves Magazine is “create.” I love this word because it’s a verb—an action. It’s not static. The dictionary definition is: “to cause to come into being, as something unique that would not naturally evolve or that is not made by ordinary processes.”
“To cause to come into being that would not naturally evolve…”
It’s been my experience that safety in relationships, groups, and communities does not come naturally. Left on our own, we will tend toward making places that are sterile, surface-y, and comfortable. We will hang out with people like us, we will hide behind fake smiles, we will hold our true selves back, we will push negative feelings away, and we will keep our hearts protected.
Part of a life of downward mobility is creating safe spaces not only for ourselves but for others, too. It’s about cultivating a way of being that allows for others to feel loved, accepted, and worthy when they’re with us and somehow have a sense in their hearts that it’s okay to be real and honest, too.
I do not think creating safety is an easy task, but I don’t think it’s an impossible one either. The biggest problem is that we have so few healthy models of what it can look like, especially in the church. And we all know we can’t change deeply grooved systems in one fell-swoop. However, we can take the wise advice of Gandhi and “be the change we want to see in the world.”
Our best shot at creating safety is to keep working on it ourselves first.
As we continually become safer, we can become co-creators of safer spaces for others. We can create little pockets of love where people begin to thrive, create, and find freedom, hope, security, and purpose, too.
Here are a few characteristics of safe people and safe communities to consider in our own lives and in the places and spaces we are creating and nurturing as leaders, lovers, and friends. Safe people (and communities):
- Are good listeners, willing to sit with painful stories instead of fixing or giving unsolicited advice.
- Offer love and acceptance freely, without strings attached.
- See beyond the surface to the good that’s within us.
- Help us feel comfortable being ourselves and challenge us to grow, stretch and practice.
- Value relationship over opinions or differences, and nurture a spirit of equality with those different from us.
- Receive help, input, and feedback instead of only giving it, and engage in healthy conflict instead of avoiding it.
- Are honest and kind, brave enough to say the hard things in love, while staying honest about our own shortcomings.
- Remain humbly connected to our stories and pain and are willing to share our weaknesses and struggles with others, too.
When I read this list, “comfortable” does not come to mind! In fact, I am consistently challenged to consider ways I can cultivate more of these attitudes and actions into my life on this wild and beautiful Jesus-infused, downward path toward ongoing transformation.
I love dreaming with you all about ways to create more spaces and places around the world with these values and practices embedded into them. With God’s help, we can be catalysts and cultivators of more safety in our own lives, our families, our churches, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, our cities, and around the world.
What does creating safety look and feel like for you these days?
Image credit: Zsolt Fila