We all long for safe relationships, for people in our lives with whom we feel safe. What are we looking for?
First, a safe person keeps confidences in confidence. A safe person will never share something personal about you with another person without your permission. You can freely open your mind and heart, knowing that your words and way of being will be held as a sacred trust.
Second, a safe person listens—truly listens—and actually hears what you say. A safe person hears your heart, not just your words. A safe person reflects back to you what he or she has heard, reflecting your heart in his or her own words. (If the person merely repeats your words . . . well, a parrot could do that! Putting it in his own words shows that the listener has processed and understood what you have said so that you actually feel heard.)
You have probably heard people say, “I know exactly what you mean.” And then they proceed to say something that shows that they totally missed the point of what you said and had no idea what you meant! That is the reason why a safe person needs to reflect back to you what she heard. God created us all with a need to feel heard, and when a person accurately reflects back what we say, we feel heard.
Additionally, a safe person checks in with you to find out if his reflection was correct, if he indeed heard you well: “Did I hear you right? Did I miss something important?” That gives you a chance to affirm that you feel heard or else correct what the person misunderstood.
Finally, then and only then—after hearing from you that you have felt accurately heard—the safe person goes on to respond to what you said. And responds in a way that is appropriate.
Appropriate to the level of relationship that you share. I have some friends who have earned the right to speak anything into my life. But others have not yet earned that liberty. A safe person responds at a level appropriate to the level of trust and liberty that has been established over time.
Appropriate to the time. I love the Scripture that says, “He who blesses his neighbor loudly in the morning, it will be counted as a curse!” To say even the right thing at the wrong time is still wrong! When people are deeply grieving is usually not the right time to share the true Scripture, “God chastens every son He loves.”
Appropriate to the situation. Empathic. Sometimes it is appropriate to share Scripture; sometimes it is not. It is rarely appropriate to share “Christian truisms” such as, “God never gives you more to bear than you can handle.” The problem with cliches and Christian truisms and sometimes even Scripture is that even when true, often these statements are neither kind nor helpful in the situational context.
Appropriate to your person. A safe person allows you to be who you are and respects you as your own unique self, not requiring you to have the same opinions or feelings or make the same choices. You are respected for who you are at this point in your life’s journey.
I wish I could assure you that there are lots of safe people among Christians. Alas, not so many! It is not that most believers do not want to be safe people; it’s that no one has taught them how to be safe or has modeled safety for them. So, if you desire to have safe people in your life, first be a safe person to others. Then build upon your own example and help them learn how to become safe people, especially in their relationship with you!
What a difference it makes to have a safe person with whom you can share your heart and mind—and feel heard, understood, accepted, and respected; be responded to in an empathic manner; and know that the sharing of your heart will be held as a sacred trust.
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