safe doesn’t come cheap or easy

kathyescobar church stuff, healing, relationships, spiritual formation, the refuge 24 Comments



as you can tell by now, i use the word “safe” a lot (wondering if it’s in most every post i’ve ever written?!?). i don’t mean to over-use it, but it is clearly something that i think it is an integral part of community, and since true blue authentic incarnational relationships are the thing i’m most passionate about, i can’t help myself from throwing it in all the time.   some have pressed back on the word “safe” over the years, thinking that it means that “anything goes” and “people are never challenged or encouraged to move”. i get where they are coming from, i don’t deny it’s tricky to pull off, but i think we need to keep asking ourselves as individuals, as communities–how can i as a person & we as a church become more safe for others?

i don’t think it comes naturally for most people.  i think our genesis 3 default nature is pretty much to be judgemental, controlling, selfish, self-centered–the cornerstones of unsafety.   also, many of us didn’t come from the most relationally healthy families where safety was really truly present.  and just to top it off, as christians many have been taught that our mission in life is to “speak the truth in love” to any and all who aren’t living out their faith or their lives the way we think is appropriate.   and since every church is made up of people, the cultures that get perpetuated tend to not be the safest places on earth (yes, i know that’s an understatement for some of you!).

i think as people, especially as christians, we need to practice becoming more safe.   as we become safer people, we cultivate safer communities.  when communities put a high value on safety, people who are part of those communities organically learn the art of becoming more safe and that safety gets extended to the people they are in relationship in other networks & places & ways.  focusing on it is always a win-win, i really can’t think of a downside.  and like most everything else, it doesn’t come overnight. we’re all always a work in progress, being more and more transformed into Christ’s likeness on our spiritual journey.  and the only way to practice, in my opinion, is in relationship with each other. that’s where we’ll rub up against our judgementalness, fears, insecurities, selfishness, woundedness, weirdness.  and hopefully, at the same time, our deep desire to live from a different place, to learn better manners, to learn more deeply the ways of Love.

safety doesn’t mean anything goes at no cost.  what it does mean is long-haul relationship where we are willing to accept other’s flaws and weaknesses because we are radically aware of our own, offer grace, and recognize that real true spiritual transformation takes time and looks different for every person.  it also means that we’ll have to learn how to be more honest, more willing to engage in true healthy conflict, and how to stay in instead of run away when the going gets tough.

in 2006 when we were just starting the refuge we ran a 4 week “mercy boot camp” workshop experience that was pretty intense and focused on getting in touch with christ’s mercy since unless we do, we most certainly can’t pass it on.  in the material we talked about becoming more safe & gleaned a few things from cloud & townsend’s book safe people.  i came across these lists last week in helping a friend work on some materials for group leaders. i think it’s so appropriate for us as individuals, as communities.  how can we cultivate a greater spirit of safety?  i think we can start with looking at some of the characteristics of both unsafe & safe people (the same things apply to communities, the wording just might change a bit) & notice areas we might need to consider.

unsafe people (and communities):

  • think they “have it all together” instead of admitting their weaknesses
  • are defensive instead of open to feedback
  • are self-righteous instead of humble
  • only apologize instead of changing their behavior
  • avoid working on their problems instead of dealing with them
  • demand trust instead of earning it
  • blame others instead of take responsibility
  • lie instead of tell the truth
  • remain stagnant instead of growing
  • resist freedom instead of encouraging it (can’t take no for an answer)
  • flatter us instead of confronting us
  • condemn us instead of forgiving us
  • stay in parent/child roles instead of relating to us as equals
  • unstable over time instead of being consistent
  • gossip instead of keeping secrets

ouch. some of these are pretty brutal & even though i consider myself a fairly safe person i cringed at a few, knowing that i do & think these things more than i wished.

safe people (and communities):

  • accept us just like we are
  • love us no matter how we are being or what we do
  • influence us to develop our ability to love and be responsible
  • create love and good works within us
  • give us an opportunity to grow & stretch & practice
  • help us feel comfortable being “ourselves”, to be on the outside what we are on the inside
  • allow us to become the us that God intended
  • use their lives to touch ours and leave us better for it
  • help us be more like Christ
  • help us to like & love others more
  • make the relationship more important than opinions
  • receive instead of just give
  • are humble & willing to say what they need
  • are honest, kind & don’t pretend
  • work through resistances instead of giving up

that’s what i mean by safe.  so many of these statements imply change, transformation.  this is why we don’t have to be afraid of the word “safe”:  a really safe relationship will cultivate movement, it just will.  a really safe community will cultivate spiritual transformation, it just will.  in the groups & friendships i am currently in & have been in over the years, the safety that was created never allowed me to stay stuck. in fact, it has always been just the opposite.  the container of relationship gave me a place to see–up close and personal–my character flaws & pain and motivated me to want to change.  they push me and pull me but it’s never out of “i’m up here and you’re down there and you better pull it off quickly or else i’m out.”  instead, it’s always out of “yeah, we’re all in this together but let’s not stay here for too long.”  every single person i am in relationship with (including myself), no matter how messed up, really doesn’t want to stay where they are.  we just need people who will love us where we are but be willing to hang in there long haul as we learn and grow and try to notice & feel & experience God in the midst.  that’s incarnational relationship.

the reason i think Alcoholics Anonymous is the most powerful underground transformational “church” in the world is that it has done an amazing job at nurturing safety.  we have a lot to learn from their culture.  i know they are not perfect, but in the DNA of the 12-step culture is a focus on cultivating humility, awareness of spiritual poverty and need for God’s help, and a spirit of nonjudgementalness because everyone there’s in the same boat.  they shoot straight & call others to sobriety, healing, restoration & reconcilation.  the door’s always open, the floor’s always available, the grace is always given.  the 12 steps are based on the beatitudes & everything about the beatitudes implies transforming more and more into the image of Christ.  integrated into our lives, our hearts, i think the beatitudes guide us toward being safe.

and we all know living the heartbeat of the beatitudes don’t come cheap or easy.  becoming a safe person, safe communities, doesn’t come cheap or easy either.  unfortunately we have a lot of black marks against us as christians, especially as churches.  people are waiting for us to leave, judge, tell, yell, critique, use, scripturize.   the only way we can become safe is to become safe.  just talking about it won’t cut it.   the true test will be actions over time.  grace offered over time.  the truth in love offered over time.   the ministry of presence over time.   the ability to stay in relationship with people that are different from us over time.  real, tangible unconditional love lavished over time.   i will blow it (i do all the time).  we will blow it (we do all the time).  but safe people, safe communities, do what they can to stay in, make amends quickly & live in a place of grace.

oh, over time, i do hope i can become more and more safe, we can become more and more safe. i think it makes the world better in all kinds of ways…