I've been thinking a lot about safe spaces lately.
I think when the darkness feels heavy and overwhelming, it's only natural. It's not that I want to get out of this storm so much as I just want a protected place where I can go hunker down and take shelter until it passes. (I've already learned running away from storms gets me nowhere, and that the best lessons come from letting them come and letting them wash over me.)
My definition of a safe space is this:
A humble, gracious, loving, compassionate, wise person (or group of people) who turn physical locations into safe havens and whose hearts feel like home to me.
These people aren't very common. Not everybody I meet is a safe space. It doesn't mean people are bad people, or that they don't have kind hearts, or that they aren't good friends of mine, it just means they haven't shown me they're worthy of my truest self, my heaviest truths, my deepest wounds.
There's just a lot of things that can make someone an unsafe space for me. And I'm learning lately how to define that, how to guard my heart, and also simultaneously how to open my heart in healthy ways with safe people. It's all a process, and I've failed quite a few times.
These past few months have felt like a crash course in walking in the darkness, learning how (and who) to trust, and trying to figure out how to stand my ground even when the world around me seems chaotic and confusing. Anybody else feel like this whole election season and the weeks after have just been shaking them to the core?
What I'm learning right now is this: safe people do not have to agree with me on everything or be the same kind of person as me. They might not have voted the same way I did, they might not believe the same things I do, they might not live in my city, but what sets them apart and proves their trustworthiness most is their inner self, their heart, their character.
Safe spaces might be family for you, or it might not. It might be a blend of both, depending on the relative. Safe spaces might be a small group or an accountability partner or a ministry team you serve on, or it might be just one trusted friend. Safe spaces might be long-distance friends, or only ones you can see on a regular basis. One safe space might look radically different from another, or they might be all the same in nature.
What is safe to you and what feels like home to you is only something you can decide. It isn't something anybody else can decide for you.
For me, I tend to think through several different things as I consider if somebody is safe or not for me. Maybe these thoughts are helpful for you too...
Are they characterized by their harsh criticisms of others, especially others who are different or other? Probably not a safe place for me.
Are they characterized by grace and love despite differences? Probably somebody who could be safe.
Are they somebody who builds walls to keep others out? (Not safe.) Or are they somebody who reaches across borders to lend a hand and extend mercy and show love? (Safe.)
Are they somebody who sparks debates and starts heated fights? (Not safe.) Or are they somebody who is quick to listen and slow to speak? (Safe.)
Are they somebody who uses humor in a way that degrades and makes others feel small? (Not safe.) Are they somebody who brings humor to scenarios in a way that brings lightness and joy? (Safe.)
Are they somebody who only sees one narrow perspective and is closed to all other opinions or outlooks? (Not safe.) Are they somebody who is soft-hearted, open-minded, curious, and willing to explore? (Safe.)
The beautiful thing about safe spaces is that they give you room to breathe, room to grow, room to stretch out your limbs and find new ways to move and live and be. Safe spaces are an invitation into fullness, richness, depth. They're opportunities to learn and teach and share and discuss.
These people aren't just constantly praising me or applauding me or telling me I'm wonderful (safe doesn't mean passive or shallow), but they're pushing me to be my best in a way that is covered in love and characterized by grace. They challenge me in the best ways, the most healthy ways, the most rewarding ways.
Nobody can define my safe spaces for me. Nobody can take more from me than I'm willing to give. In learning to define my safe spaces, I'm also learning to stand my ground and trust my gut. I'm learning to say no to the people and the roles and the spaces that aren't healthy for me, and I'm giving myself the permission to stand firm in those decisions without being swayed by the opinions of others.
Maybe you need to hear this today, too:
It's okay to let people go. It's okay to not let people in. It's okay to create boundaries for your own wellbeing, even if that means stepping away from relationships or creating space from certain people.
We all need safe spaces. We all need people who show us love, people who help us grow, people who let us be truly, fully, completely, unashamedly us.
If you've found your safe spaces, cherish them. Thank those people for being home for you.
If you're still searching for your safe spaces, don't give up hope. Stay soft, and stay open. Be cautious, but be brave. Test the waters little by little until you're ready to dive in. It will be worth it when you find your home, too.