Learning to Be Safe

July 28, 1995Cloud-Townsend ResourcesSafe PeopleComments Off on Learning to Be Safe

Has this question ever crossed your mind? Okay, I finally found a safe person, now what do I do with him? Look at him? Take him home? Go to a movie? Ride off into the sunset? Many of us are quite unfamiliar with the dynamics of closeness.

The good news is that we can take action to become more intimate. These actions lead us into deeper connections with God’s people, which then sustain us for life and growth.

There are several major tasks and opportunities ahead of you when you make the connection. Let’s take a look at them.

Learn to Ask for Help
God places a high premium in the value of asking directly for help. Forms of the word ask appear almost 800 times in the Bible, many of them an invitation from God for us to ask for things:

  • “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:22)
  • “You do not have, because you do not ask.” (James 4:2)
  • “And receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” (1John 3:22)

Not only are we to ask God for what we need in prayer, but also other people: Paul wrote his friend Philemon, “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask” (Philemon 21). Asking is human and divine, because God created us to ask.

Why is learning to ask for love so important? Here are a few of the reasons asking is helpful for us:

  1. When we ask, we develop humility. To request help or support from another destroys any illusions of self-sufficiency we might harbor. Asking helps us remember that we are incomplete, that we are needy, and that we are to seek outside of ourselves to take in what we need. This creates the position of humility in us, which opens us up not only to others, but also to God.
  2. When we ask, we are owning our needs. Asking for love, comfort, or understanding is a transaction between two people. You are saying to the other: “I have a need. It’s not your problem. It’s not your responsibility. You don’t have to respond. But I’d like something from you.” This frees the other person to connect to you freely, and without obligation. When we own that our needs are our responsibility, we allow others to love us because they truly have something to offer. In other words, asking is a far cry from demanding. When we demand love, we destroy it.
  3. When we ask, we are taking initiative. Asking is the ultimate “passivity-buster.” It helps us out of the trap of wishing and hoping someone will somehow sense our pain intuitively and come to our rescue. It also means that asking keeps us much more in control of our lives. We aren’t dependent on the clairvoyance of our friends (what a relief to them!).
  4. When we ask, we are developing a grateful character. God cherishes a grateful heart. He knows that gratitude will produce love in his people. Those who have been helped will help others. Those who have been loved and forgiven little, love little (Luke 7:47).
  5. Asking increases the odds that we’ll get something. Though it sounds too obvious to say, it’s important. How many times have you neglected reaching out to someone who is now absent from your life? Askers really do tend to get more out of their relationships.

What do I ask for? This is important, because many of us confuse function with relationship here. In other words, we’re not talking about borrowing a cup of sugar from your neighbor, or getting a ride to the airport. Asking for functional reasons is fine, but it will not help you develop relationships. In fact, it’s easy to avoid relationships by asking only for functional things.

Learn to ask your safe people for the very things you found them for: a relational connection. Learn how to ask for your emotional tummy to be filled just like you’d ask for breakfast for your physical body. Ask someone to be with you spiritually and emotionally, the same way that Jesus asked his closest friends in his darkest hour: “‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them, ‘Stay here and keep watch'” (Mark 14:34).

Learn to Need
God created you to long for attachment, to desire to matter to someone and to “hunger and thirst” for relationship. He made you that way, so that you could know when to seek comfort and connect. Just like your car’s gas gauge, your needs tell you when you’re on “empty.”

However, your needs for relationship may have been buried. They may be so far underground that you’ve despaired of ever finding them again. If so, this second task, “learning to need,” is vital for you.

You can regain your experience of neediness. You had it once: almost all babies are born with the God-given desire to be protected, connected, and comforted. And God is in the business of redeeming that which is lost, including disenfranchised parts of our soul.

  1. Confess you inability to need. Tell the truth to your safe relationships about how hard it is to rely on others, depend on others, and actually want others close. This lets your friends know that you truly need to need. As they draw closer to you, instead of shrinking back, you slowly learn to trust again. What is occurring is that the internal need begins to respond to the warmth, constancy, and safety of your relationships.
  2. Don’t fake it. You might be tempted to pretend you’re closer and needier than you feel, hoping you can generate the feelings. This isn’t helpful. It distracts your safe people from your real condition and discourages the lost part of you from being known. This will probably take some time, but safe people understand that and have time.
  3. Keep your boundaries. Pay attention to your need for separateness. Let people know when you’ve had enough connecting time, and don’t push it too hard. This helps you feel much safer internally, and more ready to take risks, knowing you won’t be swallowed up in relationship.

Work Through Resistances
What is resistance? Resistance is our tendency to avoid growth. It’s our drive to keep the spiritual and emotional status quo. It’s our inclination to move away from God’s provisions for our growth. And we all have it.

Many of the dynamics, which drive us to choose unsafe people or no people at all, are resistances. We’re loaded with ways to keep our hearts from encountering loving, supportive people. As crazy as it sounds, we often build entire lifestyles around avoiding those who would help fill us up.

So, how do I deal with resistances?

  1. Identify your resistances. The more aware you are of your specific resistances to love, the more power you have over them. Denial is your worst enemy here. With the feedback of friends, make a list of the ways you shrink from safe people, and become a student of these dynamics. They are a “road map” to understanding yourself and your real needs.
  2. Bring them into relationship. It takes humility to ask people to help you work through perfectionism, guilt or other issues. But safe people are the last to throw stones. They’ve got too much experience with their own issues. You’ll find warmth and patience with your resistances. What’s more, you’ll find that your resistances will begin to melt as you connect.
  3. Meet the needs underlying the resistances. Remember that these oppositions are designed to protect you from hurt. They’re obsolete guardians of your soul, like Adam and Eve’s fig leaves. And when the true spiritual needs underlying them have been met, they lose their power. The fight is largely over. Actively seek the connections, the truth, the forgiveness, and the equality with others.
  4. Do the opposite of what the resistances tell you. If you’re in need, your internal opposition may tell you to do some destructive things, like:
    • Go only to God with this.
    • Handle it yourself.
    • Ignore your need.
    • Realize it’s your moral failure.
    • Suck it up. Don’t be weak.
    • Find someone to criticize you.
    • Find someone to “caretake.”

Rebel! Rebel against the unbiblical authority of the resistances! They’ll tell you to find critical, irresponsible, or abandoning people-or to not seek at all. Instead, seek out loving, responsible, and faithful people.

Invite the Truth About Yourself
One of the most valuable things you can do with your safe people, ranking up there with asking for help, needing, and melting resistance, is simply to invite the truth about yourself. We have so many blind spots and areas where we aren’t aware of our self-destructiveness. The psalmist’s invitation to God echoes the same issue. “Search me, O God and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). God often uses people to answer that prayer.

There are lots of ways to implement this step. You can ask for feedback in a hundred different ways. However, it could be summarized into two questions. If you will regularly ask these two questions to your safe people, and use the answers, your life can flourish. They are:

  1. What do I do that pushes you away from me?
  2. What do I do that draws you toward me?

There are few more difficult words to ask a person, yet nothing more helpful. When you ask these questions, you’re saying several important things to your safe people. You’re telling them:

  • I value how you feel about me.
  • I want you to be a very important part of my life.
  • I respect what you observe in me.
  • I don’t want to hurt you or our relationship.
  • I trust you with my most vulnerable parts.

Many are terrified at the prospect of hearing feedback from others. You may have heard many hurtful or untrue things about yourself from a critical person. Or you may feel that you’re a sham, and that others are waiting to pounce on you and expose you to the world.

Safe people just aren’t wired like that. Your safe person wants you to know the truth for two reasons. First, the truth increases love. People who are free to be honest are free to love each other. This is because the fear of loss of attachment is one, and “there is no fear in love” (1 John 4:18). And second, the truth is always your friend. Understanding how we turn people off can go a long way in increasing the quality of our relationships and work lives. This is part of what the truth setting us free is all about (John 8:32).

You’ll hear insights, perceptions, emotions, and observations you may have never expected. When people feel truly free to tell you the truth, they tend to be quite honest but also quite loving. Remember, you safe person has heard you take the initiative to ask for the truth. There exists no concrete wall of denials to break through.

Enter into Forgiveness
Safe people are very forgiving people. They have given up on the idealistic demand that they, or anyone else, will be perfect in this life. They know that they continually need divine and human “debt-cancellations.” And they expect failure and disappointment from those they love, It’s normal in their universe, something to be accustomed to.

They are familiar with the losses and sins of this world. They don’t fight it or become indignant or bitter. They know that’s just the way a post-Fall, pre-eternity world is. They know that loving is much more important than holding onto the past.

Learn to be “two-sided” in forgiveness. Use your time with your safe people to learn the skills of forgiveness.

  1. Learn to receive forgiveness. When we are forgiven in our relationships, we truly know what it is to be “home.” Being forgiven for our sins, weaknesses, imperfections, and badnesses means reconciliation. It means that someone else knows and doesn’t condemn us.

    Receiving forgiveness allows us to integrate judged and condemned parts of ourselves. As we experience someone outside who accepts us as we are, we begin to accept the realities of who we are also. In other words, the parts of our soul stop fighting and trying to kill each other. They start working together, as the gears mesh in a finely tuned machine.

    Here are some skills of receiving forgiveness:

    • Learn to apologize.
    • Learn to feel empathy for the pain you cause others, rather than guilt.
    • Learn to admit your faults without rationalizing or making excuses.
    • Learn to ask, “Will you forgive me for hurting you?”
    • Learn to take in forgiveness without attempting to make up for your fault, or to pay for your trespass.
    • Learn to accept the love that knows we are frail, and loves us still.
  2. Learn to give forgiveness. Forgiven people become forgiving people. When your safe people look you in the eye and say, “you are forgiven,” the relief, love, and gratitude are immense. You become a champion for forgiveness.The good news about giving forgiveness is that it’s not really about the person who hurt you. Forgiveness does free the perpetrator, even though he may be unrepentant, in denial, or dead. But at a deeper lever, the person whom forgiveness frees is you.

Give Something Back
So far, we’ve laid out the five emotional and spiritual character growth tasks that safe relationships were made for. They build us up, mature and repair us, and most importantly, help reestablish God’s image in us. But there’s more to life than being helped.

When we receive all that goodness inside us, gratitude takes over. Just like when we’re forgiven, we feel a responsibility to give to others what we’ve taken in.

Now, restrain the urge to anxiously try to figure out what in the world you can give. It’s pretty simple, really. We are limited to giving what we have received, and no more. There will be needs you can’t meet in your safe people, and places they need to go spiritually where you haven’t yet set foot. God has someone else ready to help them.

To become a safe person, you need to practice these steps over and over again: ask for help, learn to need, work through resistances, invite the truth about yourself, enter into forgiveness, and give something back. These steps will keep us busy for a long, long time. But this is work that has meaning and purpose. It is work that will reap wonderful spiritual and emotional fruit for us and others.

Taken from Safe People, © Drs. Henry Cloud & John Townsend, Zondervan 1995

Safe People will help you restructure your approach to relationships. Put an end to getting burned—and start enjoying the healthy, balanced relationships everyone wants and needs.

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