Saturday, November 27, 2010

Being A Safe Person

In one of my earlier posts I ended by saying we must become a safe and trustworthy person. In reflection I realized that it might not be clear to everyone how that concept plays out in our lives.

A few days ago I was having an emotional conversation with someone (imagine) and I said something that I wish I hadn’t. It probably went unnoticed, but I was instantly aware that given the opportunity to turn back the clock, I would have kept it to myself. 

That is one instance of not being a safe person – not fully controlling our tongue.

To expand on that, not controlling our words is first cousin to not controlling our emotions, our reactions, and our angry outbursts. If we are given to that kind of behavior, people will naturally distance from us. Drama is interesting on TV, not so much in our day-to-day lives.

Keeping confidences, even when difficult is another sign of a trustworthy person. Have you ever experienced toxic prayer, when someone reveals a confidence in a group prayer “to lay it before the Lord”? Not safe.

  • Do you honor people’s time by being on time? If you don’t, you become less trustworthy.
  • Do you over commit, but under deliver and then make excuses about how busy you are?
  • Do you say things you really don’t mean? (As in “Let’s do lunch” or “I’ll pay you back”)
  • Do you treat people the same when you are in a group as you do when you are alone? 
  • Do you say the same things about a person while in their presence as you do when they are absent? 

Really, what we are talking about here is the attitude of your heart.

Luke 6:45 says: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

Husbands and wives take note: these things are especially important for you and your relationship. And people are watching how you treat each other to determine your level of safety. I was told recently by someone that before they were willing to approach me, they intently watched how I treated Nan and how she treated/responded to me. I had no idea it was happening.

So rate yourself and the people around you that you associate with. Are you safe? Are the people you keep company with trustworthy? If you need to make adjustments, be courageous and reap the benefits.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Safety & Intimacy

Last weekend was our church’s young adult retreat and the fourth time we have had the privilege to participate as team members during a time of individual focused prayer at this event. The process is simple – individuals who wish to be prayed for sign up for an appointment and teams of two people listen to their requests and then pray with them.

What has become evident to me over the past four years is the similarity of the progression that takes place during these times of connection. There is a specific prayer request (presenting problem) that usually morphs into an underlying deeper issue. Although the content changes from individual to individual, what is common to most is a deep desire for intimacy and safety, both in the moment and in life overall.

This need to be both known and safe is universal – and it is why many seek counseling. It is also a primary motive for many to join together in small community groups, such as our ‘life groups’ at our church. We need to know that we matter, that our pain and our successes do not go unnoticed. We need to know that our failings are not a reason for rejection and ostracism – but rather that we can be cheered on to do better. In short we need an environment that fosters growth because we are secure in the belief that we are accepted.

When this primary need for intimacy and security has been unmet, or worse yet, violated by people that are supposed to protect us, it may become difficult for us to form a trust bond. And forming that bond is a foundational requirement for close relationships.

How are we able to get past old wounds and begin to trust again in the wake of ruptures?

The best way I know to restore these broken places is to form new bonds with safe people. This means taking some relational risks, and cautiously opening up with a few new people. Don’t be in a hurry to go too deep too soon. Ask God to reveal to you who might be a safe person and listen intently for His response. Sometimes it is necessary to begin even more carefully, with an individual person or counselor.

Most importantly, become a safe and trustworthy person for others, and be aware of those around you who might need the comfort of your friendship. 

Friday, November 12, 2010


Every once in a while I am accused of being selfish with my time. And I struggle within myself, trying to decide if it’s true. Usually the accuser is someone who is unhappy with a boundary I have set. For example I usually let my telephone message services pick up calls rather than keep my cell phone turned on. I struggle because I want to act with maturity and love. 

But there is a distinct difference between being selfish and choosing to exercise good self-care. The purpose of self-care is to sustain and nourish myself so that I am able to go the distance in my availability to others. Selfishness would restrict my accessibility only to those that serve my purposes and my desires.

The opposite of selfish is selfless. It might be defined as overly available for others.

It sounds very noble and charitable. But is it really?

Sometimes my selflessness is just a lack of an ability to say no. Sometimes it is an attempt to gain affirmation from others to feel significant. And if I don’t get it I end up feeling resentful (the martyr).

But there are times when I must legitimately operate in a selfless manner – for example during occasions of crisis. During these times I am needed in a full capacity. But then what must follow is a period of recuperation with adequate self-care.    

What does self-care look like?

Adequate rest (sleep and Sabbath). Exercise. Recreation. Solitude. Two-way friendships. Vacations. Regular medical and dental check-ups.

Are these a normal part of your life? If they are not, then why not? Do you feel guilty when you pay attention to your own needs? Why? 

If you are like me, you probably want a balanced life – sold out to the right things and cautious about the rest. Achieving that balance is a great goal, but a difficult task. So how are you doing?     

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Is It My Fault?

Two ways we can define mental health is by the degree with which are living in reality, no matter how painful, and by the degree that we take responsibility for our own lives, no matter how difficult.

The challenge in this is that first we must be able to recognize reality through the cloud of messages that we have received starting early in our childhood, and the database of assumptions (perhaps inaccurate) that we have formed as a result.

Most everyone has heard of ‘survivor’s guilt’  -- where a person who has been through a traumatic experience feels bad when they have not suffered to the same depth as others going through the same experience, or have been spared death when others haven’t. Well-known examples would be an automobile accident, war, natural disaster, etc. But there are many other circumstances that also produce what we would define as false guilt. 

If I could define guilt as “I did something wrong” – then I would define false guilt as “I feel like I did something wrong, but I didn’t.”

The problem is that the effect on our emotional wellbeing is the same in either case. It’s what I believe about something, even more than what is accurate, that will determine its influence over my life. What then becomes important is seeking the truth and allowing it to heal the broken places.

Many kids grow up thinking that they were responsible for their parent’s divorces.

“If I had only been a better behaved child”
“If I only had intervened when my parents were fighting”
“If only I hadn’t gotten sick or been born with a challenging physical condition.”

In relationships we can do the same thing when there is conflict and turmoil.

“If only I had chosen my words more carefully” (when dealing with an abusive partner)
“If only I had taken a second job” (when dealing with a spouse who is under responsible with money.)
“If only I had tried harder” (when dealing with an impossibly negative person).

You can see that these lists can go on and on.

Do you have a list of false guilts in your own life? Are you suffering needlessly from incorrect assumptions? You need to share these painful places with others so that they can help you see reality better.

We do need to take responsibility for our shortcomings and seek forgiveness when we are wrong. But emotional health comes when we live in the light of truth.