It seems we’re always on the edge of what feels safe. We talk of safe subjects, safe places, safe thoughts.
We ask generic questions to which generic answers can be given. We stay with socially acceptable topics, and we dance around all that lurks beneath the surface.
But safe isn’t real. And safe isn’t brave.
When we stay with safe, we can pretend like we have no problems and that our life is neatly folded up and tied with a ribbon. When we walk the safe route, we experience no pricks of discomfort from the thorns – but at the same time, we rarely get to see the roses of beauty at the ends of those thorny branches.
What I really want to be safe is another’s arms, ready to embrace my vulnerable heart. I want a relationship where the brave words unlock the door to my trembling weaknesses. I can’t do it on my own. I need someone to show me they are a welcome place for me to stop giving “safe” answers.
My heart was full one night at Bible study, and I wanted to share it so badly with someone. But everyone stuck lightly to the weather, the doings of the week, and the snacks – and I couldn’t find it in myself to just spill unbidden the heavy things on my heart. Had one person asked, “How’s your heart?” – it might have found a sanctuary. But no one did.
So I asked the question of a friend as we walked out together because, I figured, if no one was going to be that for me, at least I could be that for someone else. And she answered honestly, as I knew she would, because she’s the kind of person who understands sharing vulnerability and trust within a relationship. And through our conversation, standing next to our cars in the graying, chilly rain, I was brought to a fuller understanding of something I hadn’t considered before – reminding me of the beauty of what asking those questions brings to both people – the asker and the answerer.
I think we’re all just a little too afraid to ask. We worry about what other people will think of us if we ask “those” kinds of questions. We worry that we’ll offend the other person or that we’ll make a situation awkward or that people don’t necessarily want us to ask those questions.
That might be the case with people we know only in passing or that we’ve just met. But with those with whom we’ve agreed to do life – our family members, our close friends, and our church family – it should be the expectation – not the exception – to ask the kinds of questions that lead to soul sanctuary.
Honestly, I can think of two – maybe three people in my life who ask those questions of me without being afraid. And I answer hungrily every time. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a hard time trusting others with my cares, for I don’t want to burden them. It’s hard for me to take the initiative to just share that I’m struggling because I never think it’s the right time.
But when they invite me to share, the relief comes thick of being able to share all my silent, inner burdens coiled so tightly around my heart.
Yes, I have to learn to trust people more and take the initiative to share. But I think we also need to get better at caring for people’s hearts more proactively (myself included). We need to ask questions beyond, “How are you?” and go to “How is your walk with Jesus?” “How is your heart doing?” “What has been your struggle lately?” “What can I be praying for you?” or – as my one dear friend asked just the other day, “What has been life-giving and what has been heart-breaking recently?”
And in return, we need to learn to give the kinds of answers that are honest and vulnerable – the ones that don’t try to gloss over our struggles, our fears, and our failures. We need to recognize when someone is offering us a safe place, and respond with brave words that make the relationship go deeper and stronger.
And in those answers, we need to learn to express our hurts, struggles, and fears in a way that isn’t complaining, but that is expressing the depth of heart emotion which Jesus came to accept and redeem. This leads to more authentic community – the kind that Christ wants His church built upon, the kind that is transformative and allows other people to stop pretending and find their solace in the comfort of the body of Christ.
This is exactly what Jesus did when He was here on earth – asking Nicodemus to dig deep past his Pharisee training to see what was missing in all of his rule-following. Asking the woman at the well to be honest about her five husbands and stop pretending that all was well with her heart. Asking Martha to look beyond her limited understanding of her brother’s death and truly trust in Him.
And as Jesus asked these life-giving questions, He met people in their need right where they were at, building the deepest foundation of real relationship.
This is an invitation to sanctuary – a safe place where shackles of fear fall away in the light of freedom – freedom of trust and love. How He loves us and how He sustains us. May all our relationships be modeled after and built on His love.