Times are hard. The cultural and social climate in America right now is more polarized than I have ever seen in my adult life. Everything is political. And when everything is political, people can easily forget how to respond in a civil manner. Without thinking, we can become angry or defensive, be too passive or aggressive or both, we quickly forget that there is more than one way to respond, conclude, or think about things, and we most certainly can forget the characteristic of compassion. This is what life is like in America right now.
The toxic environment of name calling, shouting, and ignoring the other has now become the norm, and that toxicity has infiltrated the church. At a time when it could be healing to draw near to others, as we draw near to Christ, we are actually pulling away and retreating to the places where we feel most comfortable, or worse, to the lonely place of isolation because we simply don’t want to deal with others.
Into this reality, God invites us to speak truth and to love well. Neither of these invitations are easy. In fact, I have learned in my personal life and in leading and mentoring others that it requires the discipline of practice to speak and love well. We most certainly will get it wrong sometimes, and we may even feel like we are failing outright, but the only true failure is to quit and not keep trying. We must learn to persevere in this faith journey.
Communal spaces within the church and among the body of believers in Christ should always be safe for those who are suffering. When it is not, it is because leaders have not created a safe environment for people to be fully present and welcomed. It is because we, not the other, are in error.
The good news is that each of us can learn to create safe spaces, and indeed this is an act of discipleship. Offering ourselves to others as people of character who are gracious, loving, honest, and trustworthy people is the way that we embody Christ.
Here are a few practical ways we can create safe spaces for people:
- Have no Fear.
I wanted to say, “Love well” at first. However, our views about love are often so distracted and attached to emotions, romance, and pleasure that it is difficult if not impossible to adequately articulate Christ’s sacrificial love to our culture. To love like Christ is to sacrifice one’s self, our desires, passions, and calling for a higher purpose, a greater cause, and to consider the needs of others above our own needs.
We often miss the mark of loving as Christ loves because we are afraid. We are afraid of what we will lose, how people will respond, and what we will have to give up if we love Christ’s way. Fear keeps us from loving well, but we know that fear is not a Christ-centered motivation (2 Timothy 1:7). Furthermore, perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).
- Choose to Trust.
Each of us must actually choose to trust. Yes, trusting is indeed an action and intentional choice. I am not saying that we should blatantly trust everyone. There is no wisdom in that. I am simply saying that we must not treat everyone with suspicion. Give people a chance to prove who they are, and allow them to see who you are.
One of the ways you can grow a trusting and affirming relationship is by consistently showing up. Your very presence is a strong communicator about whether or not you are committed to cultivating relationships, being intimate, and learning and growing from others.
- Teach us how to Love.
While fear keeps us from loving others well, fear also keeps us from asking others to love us well. We may think, “What if I ask, and they don’t respond?” My simple mentor’s response is, “Then you are no worse off than how you started.”
I know that when we ask for love, it puts us in a very vulnerable position and our feelings can get hurt. Some people are not capable of loving us well. On the other hand, others will be glad to. Know that there are people in this world who long to love you well, pray and ask God to bring them into your life or reveal them if they are already there.
We can learn to trust others with our needs and ask, and even teach others how to love us well. In their book, Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend remind us that learning to ask for love is important:
- When we ask, we develop humility.
- When we ask, we are owning our needs.
- When we ask, we are taking initiative.
- When we ask, we are developing a grateful character.
- Asking increases the odds that we’ll get something.
When we talk about creating safe spaces for learning, growing, and sharing, this is the relational development and work that is necessary for making disciples or pursing justice. In what ways do you create safe places for others?
This post is a summary of the section A Commitment to Community, in Mentor for Life: Finding Purpose through Intentional Discipleship. Affirmations for creating a safe spaces and community are available as a free downloaded resource. For more free downloadable resources, visit my official website at http://www.natashaSrobinson.com.