I want to discuss, and this has been kind of marinating on my heart for some time, and that is the subject of safe relationships. I feel that in the times that we live in, in the days that we live in, one of the key things, one of the most important things that we need to be aware of, is how to cultivate safe relationships. Today I want to talk about six signs of safe relationships and how to find them, so you’ll want to stay tuned all the way through the end because I’m going to lay on this where you can begin to apply it in your own heart and in your own life.
Three Dimensions of Relationship
I truly believe that the foundation of all healthy and all sanity is found in the dimension of healthy and safe relationship. We have three relationships that we live with on a regular basis. We have our relationship with God. We have our relationship with ourselves and many people don’t realize they have a relationship with themselves and we’re bringing that message about and helping people to understand you do have a relationship with yourself. You live with yourself all day long. You are talking to yourself in the form of self-talk. You have background noise going on of thoughts and then you have the forefront thoughts that you’re thinking about all the time. All this noise is going on and what are you doing about it, what is the quality of that?
Then there’s the third dimension, which is relationship with other people. It’s how we interact, it’s how we do live together. How we connect. You have your various levels of relationships. You have your acquaintances, you have your friends, you have your family, then you have your deep inner circle, the people that when you’re going through something difficult, when you’re going through something challenging, that these are the people that you count on. These are the people that you look at to have your back and I believe that the full scope of health and wholeness, I believe it even affects our physical health. I believe that it affects our mental health and it affects the all around effectiveness and longevity of our life on this planet.
Importance of Relationships to Wholeness
You see you can have great gifts, great talents, great abilities, you can have very impressive things on your resume, but if you don’t have the ability to cultivate safe and healthy relationships than the beautiful things that you carry are going to be sabotaged in the long run because you don’t have a ongoing flow from God to yourself flowing in relationship with others and then receiving the benefit that loving relationships can offer in your life. I really want to bring home that it is important. So much when we talk about being victorious, we talk about overcoming, we talk about breakthrough, we talk about health and wholeness, we really emphasize the up and down relationship with us and God, meaning the spiritual interaction with God.
Life is Not Just You and God
We often seek that and devalue the application of that with our brothers and sisters and one of the things that we really want to do very passionately, is we want to bring out the importance of what it means to have passionate relationships with brothers and sisters in the body of Christ so that it brings the fullness of what God was wanting to do in the relationship that he has with us. You see life doesn’t just end with you and God and many of us think that. We think that life is just us and God at times and people feel dangerous. We feel threatened by them and so we begin to isolate ourselves, we begin to remove ourselves, and it’s like eh it’s me and you God and all these people they’re jerks. All these people they’re unsafe. All these people they’re toxic, so it’s just me and you God.
I understand that feeling. I understand that very well. I’ve experienced many of the pains and rejections and heartaches that you’ve faced in your own life, but there comes a place where that then becomes an isolation prison where you become imprisoned by your walls and you become imprisoned by those things around you and then we being to start developing areas of thinking that are not sane, and this is of deep concern to me and my life and the help that I bring to people is that we are not producing the sanity that’s necessary because our relationships are breaking down. You see in the communion of healthy sharpening relationships, is where you stay sane.
Preventing Mental Instability
I don’t think people even realize this because I interact more and more with believers, Christians, well meaning people that are thinking thoughts, that are filled with instability and insanity and much of it is coming out of the lack of healthy mentoring, of healthy relationships around them, where their only standard of thought is just themselves and so they’re continually finding themselves in places where they’re struggling to keep their sense of daily sanity in their life because God intended for there to be a multitude of healthy people that sharpen us, that then become a gauge for our journey. We utilize that. We feel safe in that, and then we’re able to grow in our own health. We’re able to grow in our own sanity.
I’m a big proponent of this being restored in our lives. There’s so much that we do in church and we need to know how to move together to healthier relationship, I need to say I want to be healthier with you and you say I want to be healthier back with you. When that happens we’ll see change in the church. The problem is is it’s often one sided where one person wants to be healthy but the other doesn’t or neither one could give a rip because we’re so concerned about just building big businesses or just the look of success or just being busy or having a lot of programs and activities and we’re not really concerned about the bedrock of everything that happens in our life and that is healthy relationship. I want to bring healthy relationship to the table. I want to bring healthy relationship to you so that then we can grow together in the power that God has for us.
Safe Relationships for Healing
Now, the scriptures talk about this. In James five it says “Confess your trespasses one to another that you may be healed.” Isn’t that amazing that God lays as a framework for your healing? For your healing. Physical, mental, emotional healing is in the context of healthy confession one to another. Now in order to do that, you have to have an environment of safety for this to be effective. For this to be fruitful. If there isn’t safe relationship, if there is not a dynamic of safe relationships, this is going to be very difficult to do. In the scriptures, Paul the Apostle and John, they wrote powerful writings to the church and much of it had to point to how to do life together as a community so that we be one. Jesus said that they be one father, as you and I are one.
That Paul said that you would guard the unity that’s going on. That you would live in a spirit of unity. That you would work to keep mindful of unity. That you would work steadfastly to know that the enemy seeks to devour. How is the enemy seeking to devour? He’s been doing it for centuries and what does he do? He corrodes relationships from being as powerful as they can be in people’s lives and this erodes the safety of connection so then people begin to move away from connection. As they move away from connection, they move into isolation and isolation is one of the number one door points for mental instability in peoples lives. I’m talking in many different areas.
The moment the enemy moves us into a place, and it could be shame, you feel shamed and so you just kind of hide in darkness. It could be you got hurt by people so you just move away from them and you don’t want to deal with people anymore. It could be many different reasons but the enemies’ ideal scenario is to get you out of community, into isolation, and then he can begin to fire at you without the counsel and without the backup of people who can circle the wagons and be a part of your life.
Now, I got to give it to you folks. We live in a time and season where this is difficult and it’s challenging. We don’t see a lot of safe groups in communities where this can happen in the fullest measure that it needs to. I get it. There are a lot of unsafe people.
We need relationships that are safe but not everyone is safe. I understand that. In fact there’s many unsafe people out there but we can’t make a blanket statement that now says, “No one is safe. There’s no one out there. There’s no one that I can connect with,” because we have to get back in the game.
Finding safe people is a journey. It is a journey and it’s something that we have to learn how to cultivate, we have to learn how to be able to take hits, we have to learn how to be able to work through forgiving, work through processing the pain, work through areas where it didn’t work out and we come back again and we have to find it because our health and our sanity is at stake.
If you find yourself moving from relationship, relationship, to relationship, to relationship you need to stop pointing outward and start looking inward and going what is the trigger? What is the story? What is the narrative that keeps happening in my life that I’m coming into agreement with that’s not allowing me to feel the safety that relationships can bring into my life. What is it? What’s going on? God would you help me? This is so critical. This is so important.
Taking the Risk
What I want to do is i want to let you know that safe relationships, pursuing them, finding them, is worth the risk. It’s worth it every time. People say, “Well what if I get hurt? What if this happens again?” That’s where we need to understand that God works in that realm of faith. God works in the realm of faith that when we take a risk and it doesn’t work out, that he wants to be there to heal us, to restore us, and help us to get back into the game.
We don’t always just find successes on the first try. We often have to go through some stuff and those things, they become part of our story. They become part of the testimony of what God is going in our life. They become part of the place that you have a sensitivity to people who’ve been wounded because you’ve been wounded. You get what it’s like to go through the pain that many people are facing in their own life and in their own journey so what I want to give you is I want to give you six signs of safe relationships and then I want to end this with telling you how to find them. Okay, these are people that when you interact with them these are the things that you sense that cause them, that you could put an understanding that these are safe people.
1. You can be flawed and still feel safe.
The first one, the first sign is that you can be flawed and still be safe. What I mean by that is when you interact with this person you live in a no-condemnation zone. Meaning that you don’t feel judged, you don’t feel accused, you don’t feel like you’re being interrogated, like you’re being questioned on something in a way that is shame based. A lot of people don’t know how to do life without kind of saying things that shame each other.
You see the moment you feel judge, the moment you feel accused, you’ll start backpedaling. Now I’m not saying that every time you feel that it’s accurate because some people have a shame lens and the moment somebody tries to get close, they backpedal and say, “You’re judging me, you’re shaming me.” It’s like we were just having a conversation but there is something about safe people that when you have them in a deep proximity and they get to know your life and they see your sins and they see your flaws and they’re able to handle it with grace.
They don’t change how they interact with you. When they see your flaws, the don’t start interacting with you differently. They don’t start backpedaling. They don’t have this sense of mmmmm. In fact, safe people when you share your flaws or when they see your flaws, they have a compassion and a grace that actually invites you to go deeper.
Now you still need to make a choice. Am I going to go deeper or am I going to run and hide in my pain, in my junk, in my vulnerability and weakness and all those areas, am I going to go hide in it or am I going to go deeper? It’s difficult because a lot of people can be very judgy. They can be very accusatory. When you have somebody, for instance sometimes it’s hard to have a person in your home. Have them over for dinner, have them over for a visit because sometimes then people start to judge everything in your home. Those kind of people I don’t want visiting my house. I don’t want visiting in my personal time. Why? Because they can’t handle it. They can’t handle, people can’t handle seeing certain flawed areas.
We all have them but we’re all of a sudden shocked and surprised when we see them in peoples lives. Safe people know how to see those flaws and are okay with continuing with you and growing. Okay? This is an important part.
2. You can talk about your struggles and they are not always in a hurry to fix you.
The second thing, which kind of leads into this. The second sign of a safe person is you can talk about your struggles and they’re not always in a hurry to try to fix you. You can talk about your struggles but the persons not in a hurry to try to fix you. This is a sign of a safe relationship. You could talk and you share and the persons goal is to hear you out. They empathize. They connection with you. I’m not just trying to give you five things to fix.
During some of the most toughest seasons of my life, people would say, they mean well but they just say just unsafe things. They’d say things that were just not helpful. You’re going through a difficult time and they’re like, “You know have you thought about asking people to pray for you?” You’re like, “No. You know I didn’t. I didn’t. I went into a closed room and closed my eyes and put blinders on.” Of course I’ve been asking people to pray. For crying out loud. These very shallow statements that people say where we assess, we make certain statements because what we want to do is we want to very quickly fix somebody.
When you have someone that hears a struggle and they quickly want to just throw solutions out to you or say cliché statements to you, they don’t possess and ability to connect with struggle.
A great sign of a great relationship is you have a person who can engage you in your struggles powerfully. They can weep with you. They can connect with you. They can empathize with you, but they don’t just sit there and woe is me. They’re not the self-pity friends. We all have the self-pity friends where you could tell them your struggle and they go, “Yeah. I know isn’t it terrible? Isn’t life hard. Everything’s just awful.” That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about they can weep with you but in their heart they’re calling for and longing. You can sense it on them. They’re longing for a breakthrough and they long for it with you but yet they’re in pain and they’re not trying to hurry you up because many of us are in process.
We’re all on a journey and they have a sense of moving in a redemptive direction and what happens is when you leave proximity with them, when you leave your interaction with them, you feel encouraged to go at it again and get back in the game and stay the course and maybe they come up with one little thought that you glean in your own life. Maybe just one little thing that they share with you but they’re not trying to just fix you because I’m going to tell you this, people that if they can not talk with you fruitfully about your struggles, if they just throw cliché answers at you, “Well just keep believing. Well just keep praying.” Or they just slap at you something to do, “Well maybe you should just go get a counselor. Maybe you should just …” I really believe it’s because they’re not dealing with their own pain in their own life. They’re not dealing with their own struggles, their own heartaches, they are blind to their own personal battles and therefore they don’t have anything to offer you.
3. They actively listen.
Actively. Listening is not a passive event, it’s very active. In fact I actually find that it takes more energy to listen than it does to talk because listening involves hearing what’s coming out of their mouth but connecting to the heart of what they’re saying and developing questions that can help pull out more in them. I find that people that are great listeners, they don’t make it all about themselves. You share a story, maybe you had a financial struggle and immediately the other person goes into their financial struggle and you’re like, “Man I’m going through a hard time. I wasn’t sitting here so that I could just hear your financial struggle.” I mean it fits, you just got to know how it fits and when it fits. I get all that but people who are good listeners, they take time to understand what you’re going through and to feel a sense of your story and your heart.
They don’t make quick assumptions about you. One of the things that I find is very challenging in relationships is when people make quick assumptions and judgements based on little information. It drives me nuts when sometimes I’d interact, it’d be in a circle of people and somebody be like, “Yeah, you know because Mark, he doesn’t like so and so.” I’m like, “What are you talking about?” They based it off a statement they heard from me out of context and they didn’t hear my heart and they made a judgement based on that.
Be very careful about making blanket statements about somebody without careful assessment and interaction with the person to really get from them. Good listeners take time to understand the story, understand what you’re going through. This is a safe person to be around. They actively listen.
Even people that I meet with in my coaching sessions, when I begin to give input, I don’t give input until I feel I’ve gotten a good assessment of what’s going on and because I do this, this is where God’s gifted me, I can often move quicker than in typical relationships. It’s just where God’s gifted me, it’s a strength of mine to begin to move in quick, to give an assessment, but I don’t move into activation until I get a nod from the person, or if I’m on the phone, get a verbal yes, that’s exactly what I’m going through. What I’m saying, say, “Does this bear witness? Does this make sense?” Because I want to honor the persons heart.
4. They can go through ups and downs with you.
In other words, this is not a high maintenance relationship. How maintenance relationships means you’re always making sure, “Did I come across the right way? Is that person, are they okay? Are we all right? Are we good? Did that awkward situation throw you off?” You feel like you can just keep moving forward. The ups and downs don’t easily throw the other person out of connection with you. This is really important because they have a maturity in their life to navigate the hard times and when you’re not living according to your true self and some stuff manifests from you, they’re not placing that now as a label on you.
Are you having a bad day and maybe you just kind of go into a fit of hopelessness? They don’t sit there and go, “Oh my goodness, this person is really bad.” This goes back to handling peoples flaws. Can you hand your friends sharing some struggles in their marriage and not go, “Oh my goodness the marriage is falling apart, panic,” no we need some people of steady faith to go, “This is important, this needs to be dealt with, you’re going to make it, if this is not dealt with things could get in trouble but I’m not going to panic. I’m going to hang in here with you. I’m going to be a person that through the ups and downs.” That’s the kind of safe person you can find in your life.
5. They genuinely want you to succeed.
Number five, a safe person truly wants you to succeed. They want you to grow and benefit in every area of your life. They want you to do well. They want you to soar in every area of your life. This means, even more than them. It means that they want you to soar, even if it means more than they do. They get excited and this means envy and jealousy is not a part of their relational sphere.
This means insecurity is not a driving force because otherwise this is not possible. The moment someone starts to accelerate or being promoted and it’s not you or whatever, all that stuff, envy and jealousy drives most of our relational breakdowns and most of our struggles organizationally because people are not secure in who they are and they’re not there to empower others, they’re sitting there trying to survive. Therefore they don’t become safe people because they can’t handle seeing others blessed and they are maybe in a waiting period or they’re still in their journey of finding their own breakthrough in that area of their life. This is really really important. They truly truly want you to succeed in your own life and in your own journey.
6. They are trustworthy with the treasures of your heart.
In looking at the last aspect of safe relationships, it’s important, this is a big one, they are trustworthy with the treasures of your heart. Meaning that the deep things that you long for, the areas of deep struggle and battle, areas that they share, the vulnerabilities that they give to you, are held with great honor and great respect and great trust.
When relationships are filled with trust, everything is amazing. When relationships struggle in the area of trust, every form of drama rises to the surface. If you lack trust in somebody, and yes this can be your own trust issues, it can also be the persons lack of being trustworthy, whatever the diagnosis is, when trust is extracted from the arena, what we find is the relationship will struggle in every way. There will be fear, there will be rejection, there will be offense, there will be division, there will be a lack of clarity, all because a safe environment requires that people are trustworthy with the treasures of peoples heart and when it’s violated, there is great responsibility that is taken. There is great responsibility that is taken on a personal or organizational level or whatever it is. That they were not safe and that trust needs to be rebuilt.
Once trust is built there’s a great deal of vulnerability and so when people, I remember John Maxwell, years ago in old trainings that he did in leadership he would say this, he says, “When someone gives you the key to their heart, turn it very slowly.” Don’t just yank that key and then just go around that place, however you want. Treat it with honor and respect.
Love Creates Safety
When the deep things are shared, I’ve learned the scripture that says, “Love covers a multitude of sins,” and growing up I never really understood that verse because I didn’t understand love and people would say, “Well, you know you don’t want to do cheap love. You don’t just cover up.” They saw it as a cover up, no, love covering sin. When you’re covered by love, it’s not a covering of hiding it. It creates the atmosphere by which sin can be healed. Sin cannot be healed in a place of condemnation and judgement because all that produces is the letter of law and death.
Love comes in to create an environment of grace. To say you’re safe. I accept you where you are and I’m going to help you and when I truly don’t step up to the mark, and none of us can be perfect. We all need to be room to be flawed. We all make our mistakes. We’re all goofy, but when we truly violate the relationship, we take responsibility. Safe people take responsibility for their areas where they were untrustworthy and they realize they have to build it back up. When you hear the inward story of someone, you guard it. You pray for it. You honor it and protect it.
I remember when my wife and I were pastoring and we would often run into this in church relationship, there’d be a person who had a lot of issues and struggles and people were like, “What’s the deal with that person?” We all have that. We’d get to know the person and work with them on an individual level and we’d dig deep into the hard issues and the past struggles and we’d find out why they do the things that they do. We really understand why they tick.
Then others would sometimes make statements, kind of accusatory, a little judgy, condemning kind of stuff, evaluating them in a harsh way and we would get like mama bear and papa bear. Like, “Man you don’t know what they’ve been through. You be very careful how you make quick assumptions about people and their life and their journey.” I feel like we need more of that in the body of Christ. That we really connect to the heart of what people are doing. Now I know it’s up to people if they really want to grow and not a lot of people want to grow and we honor them and cover them and step up for them and we’d be safe and their not safe and they don’t want to enter into that safety. I’m not talking about that today, I’m talking about how to look out for people that are safe. Those are the six signs.
How Do You Find Safe People?
Now, how do you find them? I talk about this over and over again and help people and equip them in really understanding how do we, because we’re all looking for safe people. We’re all looking for safe relationships, safe churches, safe businesses, safe family settings, safe arenas. The way that you find safe people is that you first be a safe person. We want things to come to us but we don’t want to necessarily be what is required to attract that, to cultivate that. You know when I was pastoring years ago, people would say this to me all the time, “You know I need this church to be safer.”
`What they were saying is I need this environment to be safe for my needs, my wounds, the radar that I have, the issues that I’m working through, I need this place to be safe for me, and the thing is is that I’d have to remind them, not only do I need to cultivate a safe environment for you but I need to cultivate a safe environment for you, for her, for him, for her, for her, that person, that person, we have to create a safe environment for a community. We’re not going to have this isolated igloo where everything is going to work perfectly for our own safety. There’s going to be areas you’re uncomfortable in. There’s going to be areas that are not perfect in relationship. The way that we’re going to change this thing is that each of us individually come to the table and we’re safe people. That when you talk to me, first and foremost, when you talk to me, in your flaws you’re going to feel safe.
My wife and I have had more and more and more interactions, people come to our house or we’re in settings and they just want to stay and keep talking with us. Why? Because we’ve determined to create an atmosphere of safety and that even when you walk out the door, there isn’t just a judgement about all the junk that you go through, there’s a compassion and there’s an understanding, especially because we’ve gone through our own pain, we’ve gone through our own heartache and our own struggles. I’m going to make sure that when I talk to people I don’t just try to fix them. I don’t just wash over their struggles. I truly connect to them and I truly have a heart of patience with people and their own journey.
I actively listen. I do more listening than just talking and yapping. I really try to understand, through the ups and downs, my heart is to be faithful. My heart is to be consistent. I’m not just going to leave a church the moment it gets inconvenient. I’m not just going to leave a fellowship the moment it gets inconvenient. I’m not just going to quit a job or quit a relationship the moment it gets inconvenient. I truly want to see you succeed and if you succeed I succeed because I’m connected with you and I’m going to be a person that’s trustworthy.
If you’re sitting there today and you have complaints about relationships that are not trustworthy, why don’t you be a trustworthy person and demonstrate the new model and the new place that people can begin to experience in their own life. Most people don’t have a model of what it means to be healthy, of what it means to be safe.
I’m determined to create environments were people can feel safe to work through their issues without the shame, without the guilt, and without the garbage in their life. I pray this blesses you. I pray it ignites you into change and it causes you to raise up to a new level in your own life and in your own journey and I thank God for it and I’m excited to continue this journey.