why feeling safe is everything

If we sat down and I had you close your eyes…and I said asked you to think of the safest place you’ve ever been; the safest place that you can take yourself in your imagination…where would it be? Go ahead. Do that now. No seriously. Really ponder, wonder, and be curious about where that might be. Take yourself there for a minute or two.

Where did you go? What images came to your mind? What did you feel? What did you sense? What did you smell? Who was with you? What were you touching? Was it light or dark out? Was there water? Were your feet on the ground? What kind of shoes were they in? Did you feel full? Hungry? At peace?

Recently, I started some clinical therapy to finally deal with some unresolved childhood baggage coupled with some uncontrollable situational anxiety that has plagued me since my adolescence. There are many others issues, conversations, feelings…all the feelings…that connect themselves through my life like a spiderweb that seems to extend and influence every part of my waking existence. I’ve mentioned these things before: my perfectionism, control issues, an overriding need external validation, unrealistic idealism, and the deep anxiety that seems to stem from all of this - plus a backdoor subconscious fear of the unknown, how it will affect me…my life…my plans…my joy…my control.

As someone who has tried stubbornly, though mostly as a complete failure, to live a “missional” life…aka, a life that is focused on helping people heal, transform, and grow closer to God, I have found a consistent pattern in relationships that is strikingly clear. What seems so obvious to me now looking back many times was right in front of my eyes. I have found in myself and others a pattern that influences everything about how we are human and most importantly, how we are in relationships. This pattern that seems to be the foundation for all health in darn near everything that is relational: marriage, career, ministry, finances, children, family, relationships with friends, enemies, business people. Even putting "it” into writing, at this moment seems so basic, but oddly it is something we rarely practice with others and are rarely aware of needing ourselves.

Safety. The need we all have to feel safe…that no one is out to get you…there are no threats…no one wants to control you…there is no need for fear, guardedness, or insecurity.

Safety, even as Maslow emphasized, is the bedrock of everything that we crave as humans. Let me say that again. Safety is the bedrock for everything we desire as humans. It’s not everything, but it is entirely the first step in any relationship, any intimacy, any sense of being known, or knowing others…all begins with feeling safe. “Being safe” isn’t what preoccupies our minds when we dream of having a wife, husband, or restored relationships with people, but it seems to be the first step towards any depth of our greatest desire: to be known and to know others deeply. No one can move further in their maturity, their development, or in relationship with anyone they care about until there is a deep feeling of safety; physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. 

Without feeling safe, people don’t open up, they don’t want to listen to you, they won’t want to be near or communicate anything of value to you. Some people, however, at some point may push past that fear to get what they want, or a cheap version of what they want: sex, nearness, closeness, touch, feeling of being known. But ultimately without a foundation of feeling safe, no depth of intimacy can be experienced. 

When I teach people how to “do ministry” or “be like Jesus” or “share their faith,” what people normally think of when they hear those phrases has something to do with convincing people of their worldview. Many times it has to do with sharing information about their religion. Questions like “how might I help them align with my views of life, value, and purpose?” come to mind, rather than, “how might I make this person feel safe?” This is probably one of the greatest issues with Christian evangelism I have witnessed. It seems to have been since the beginning, because as pure of intention a Christian may possess, no person can adequately hear anything that is trying to be communicated —> until they feel safe. 

Here’s the deal,
When people feel safe…when they don’t feel like you are trying to control them…when they don’t feel like you have a hidden motive or agenda….when they don’t feel like you’re selling something…when they actually feel like you care about them before ANYTHING ELSE, then, they will listen. Then they will draw near. Then, “ministry” can be done. You see, the call of a Christian is to first and foremost embody God; to be like Jesus, “God in the flesh.” The Message Bible puts it simply in the first chapter of the Book of John, “God became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”

God put on flesh to show us how to be human, not to be a member of tribe that make themselves separate and superior.

The call of Christians to be like Jesus is NOT defined by getting your worldview sorted out, having the correct idea of when you should baptized, or have a firm grip on your eschatological doctrine. To be like Jesus is to embody God; to be a Christian is to embody Jesus; who comforted those who needed comforting and provoked those who needed provocation. It’s not to hold to a doctrine, its not to have your thinking in order, its not to be Democrat or Republican, or pro-trump or ant-trump, or pro-gun or anti-gun or for gay marriage or against gay marriage. 

NONE OF THAT MATTERS IF YOU’RE MAIN GOAL ISN’T TO EMBODY GOD, FIRST.

And to embody God in His very nature is to be a safe person. 

If you call yourself a Christian. Ask yourself these questions: Can I be trusted? Do people see me as someone they can trust? Do people confide in me? Can they can share their darkest secrets with me? Do I ask questions that go deeper than the surface? Do I model that I care about people…their story, their hopes, their dreams, their fears?

What I have found is that most people don’t approach God because God doesn’t seem safe and most definitely doesn't care about them personally. By-in-large most people in the contemporary United States do, however, have a belief in God. They feel like there is something is “out there:” some force, some designer, some creator. In the religious academic world we call those people Deists. Most simply, Deists believe that there is a God, but more or less, God created the world, set it in motion, and left it to “be” without any personal involvement. 

What we see in the scriptures, however, is that God is the safest being that anyone could ever attempt to imagine. Not only that, he is personally involved with the lives of his creation; all the nuisances, all the details, all the feels.

He is infinitely loving, infinitely welcoming, infinitely delivering, pursuing, rescuing. He doesn’t sit back and dispassionately watch the world make a wreck of itself. He sits on the edge of his seat, waiting for us to involve him in our lives. He weeps when we weep, dances when we dance, welcomes us home when we feel lost, and never stops telling us that WE BELONG TO HIM.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” 1 John 4:7-12

I’ve often wondered why I love riding my bike so much. Truly. Like…why is this so important to me? Not racing, not the gear, not the kits, not the blah blah blah, but the basic experience of being on two wheels, out in the woods on the trails or climbing a mountaintop road. I’m not just looking at the landscape, I’m in the landscape. It feeds my soul, mind, and body in ways nothing else can. Why is it so impactful for me? Why have my best prayer times, most clear moments, and weeping, snotting, yelling, arguments with God, myself, and others….why have those always moments aways been on the bike?…when no one else, no device, no stressor, is around to draw my attention away from it. Why is this space so sacred to me?

In my therapy session, my counselor said, “Go to your safe place.” My eyes were closed, head bowed, trying to get myself there in my imagination. All of a sudden I was.

I found myself on the curvy, mellow climbing, quiet, peaceful road of Lefthand Canyon as it ascends to Ward, Colorado at 9,300 feet elevation. I felt the handlebars in my hands. I could see the sun creeping through the tops of the trees casting a mix of shadows and beams on the road in front of me. I could smell the wet dirt, the drying pine in the setting sun on a summers eve. I could hear the birds squawking in the trees. I could feel my chest expand and collapse with every breath, rhythmically peeling off all the mental layers of stress from simply getting through my day.

I wept. She asked me to describe this moment. I couldn’t even speak. I was there. In it. And the tears poured down my face, sobbing. I was loved. I was free. I was safe.

Ohhhhhhh. That’s why I love riding so much!

Not only is it the safest place I can physically go (tho some may argue against that), it’s the safest place I’ve ever been. In the woods. On the trail. Far from home. Far from distraction. Far from pain. It’s also the moment when I feel closest to God. The safety God invites me to feel and know is made manifest in that moment on two wheels. He meets me there, welcomes me home, with no prerequisites and no strings attached. No other place feeds my soul the way those places do, because I am safe.


I believe whole-heartedly, that God wants you to feel safe in his presence too. If you don’t, let's talk. There is nothing I want more than to have those who feel far from God, with all thier shame, fear, insecurity, doubt, questions, confusion

…to draw near to the true, living God, who welcomes all of you. Yesterday. Today. And Tomorrow.

an early revelation

One hot and humid day in the fall of 2007, I left College Station, the home of Texas A&M University, and drove my car south on Highway 6 to Navasota, Texas, a town regionally known for its rural poverty, lack of foundational culture, and overt racism. These social elements were never really talked about and they seemed to fly under the radar of the general public. Most folks, including myself, are generally ignorant of their white privilege and do not spend a great deal of time thinking about what they could do to fight institutionalized racism. I’m not sure whether it was the university’s students that hadn’t woken up to the anything outside of their class schedules or it might have been the constant distraction of their credit card with their parent’s money on it. Or maybe it was just the the normalized classism that exists in most places that goes unaddressed by the white majority conveniently preoccupied with their own careers, zip code, and socioeconomic status.

At the time I was volunteering 15 hours a week working with the organization that relies on thousands of relational hours spent by college students willing to pour their time into the lives of high school kids. I could go on and on about the stories I have from the few years working to bring the free gift of the love of God to high school kids, all along trying to forge some sort of social justice movement that might shift the culture in the town a few degrees towards equality. I experienced both revival and sadness, beauty and ugliness during those years. Like most endeavors, there are two sides to every coin.

This particular afternoon I was frustrated. I had been driving down to Navasota (what we jokingly called “the nav,” the “nasty nav,” or most often just “the nasty”) for a few years and had seen little spiritual or cultural movement by almost anyone or group of people. I was frustrated. The good kind though, not the “what’s in it for me” kind but the truly “heartbroken, I wish the world wasn’t so dark” sort of frustration. A pastor friend of mine said he called it “righteous anger.” The kind that burns inside of you like a wildfire and causes you to spontaneously weep over the injustices and unnecessary suffering in the world: physical, mental, and spiritual. 

I remember driving in my car, sitting on the same road making the 20 minute drive in silence, praying for God to move in ways that were powerful and miraculous.

In the quiet, in the stillness of that drive, I heard the Spirit speak to my heart and mind, so clearly and profound. So much so that when I walk away from situations like these it is so remarkably clear to me that the still small voice that had spoken was surely not mine. It didn’t come from within me, it felt like it was given to me like a gift from the cosmos. It was clearly the Living God, the Divine, the Holy Spirit, His or Her living presence that is here, now, and near. This is what they said:

“What if all of this…all of this work…all of this effort…all of this frustration…all of these dollars you are putting into the tank of your car…all of the heartache…all of the seemingly wasted time…

What if all of this… is as much about what I am achieving within you, rather than what you are achieving for others?

What if this whole experience is rigged for your transformation, not what you accomplish?”

Selah.

Looking back on this idea now seems entirely elementary, but at the time it turned my world upside down. I had lived in a pious self-denial mentality that the Spirit was trying to free me from. There was so much more joy, hope, and spiritual unearthing to be involved with rather than simply our external surroundings. I have lived in this truth every day since this moment for over twelve years now, but at that moment it significantly shaped my life. Things I do are now things that I allow to transform me. As a wise person said, “let everything be your teacher.”

The call of Jesus was, “Come, follow me,” because Jesus knew that deeply effective transformation doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Memorizing Bible verses does not achieve anything practically for us until it is put into intentional motion. As Eugene Peterson once said, “We don’t acquire information about God, but skills in faith. An apprentice of Jesus learns not in the setting of a classroom, but sitting at the foot of a craftsman.”

Our transformation into a loving and truth-seeking person must be in practice. In the same sense, God has both loved me radically and also has given me a passion for truth; God in His essence is both love and truth. God is the truest version of humanity, wholeness, and unity; both passionate love and honest truth recklessly smashed together. Jesus came to show us how to be a healthy human: addressing the real problems within before we address problems outside.

His kingdom wasn’t a kingdom of re-establishing a power of state or government. His kingdom was a restored world where people treated each other the way they wanted to be treated. He gave us all the same capacities to love and live in wholeness because He has instilled in us from the beginning his Imago Dei: God’s image is buried deep within all of us.

 

It is the responsibility of all people, most importantly those who call themselves the loaded term Christian, to must spend our lifetimes unearthing this truth within us.

If we miss the transformative movement within us that God so lovingly desires, then I believe we completely miss the purpose of it all. “First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean (Matt 23:26).”

And so, my prayer is that you may hear that still, small voice, calling you outward into the world to make real, lasting change for others. But as you go, let that same voice do the work in you that it requires…calling you to unlearn and relearn, deconstruct and reconstruct, and pass through the refining fire that God calls us through.