Fear is the antithesis of connection, of vulnerability, of openness. When I fear pain, rejection, disapproval, back-stabbing, being seen as weak, or being seen as unspiritual, usually it’s based on past experiences. Past relationships that I thought were safe backfired and steamrolled me. So what do I do with that fear? I hold it up as a shield, stay shallow, and never get close enough to be hurt again. I keep my distance from not only the one who hurt me, but from everyone around me because I EXPECT to hurt again.
Fear is a barrier. Even when I haven’t been hurt by you, those prior experiences have taught me to not trust anyone with the real me, that I am too much or too little or too vulnerable or too damaged to engage openly with one more dangerous person.
These fears are real, and usually well-founded. But they leave me lonely, and sad, and desperate for someone to really KNOW me. I hide my brokenness behind a mask of “Oh I’m fine!” when I’m really craving a safe place to take off that mask and get real.
Sometimes we don’t even know. Our masks may be made of paper, iron, or diamonds.
Paper masks are fragile, and look dangerous to others.
Iron masks look like strength.
Diamond masks look glittery and beautiful, and can even draw people to me.
But they all have this in common: they protect me from deep relationship in favor of safety.
What does it take to overcome fear, to lay down the mask, to be the real me? Can I possibly show my frailty, my warts, my pain to you?
It starts with me. I must come out of hiding before I can take the risk.
It takes discernment. And it takes courage.
Courage comes first. Am I willing to put myself out there for the possibility of deep connection? And if I do, can I have some kind of guarantee that the past won’t repeat itself?
Sorry, no guarantees. But there is a chance. A chance worth taking that if I come near to you, you will accept me and love me and I can do the same for you.
Discernment means learning whether the chance is big or small. We must learn to recognize the ones who will accept us. Who will speak truth lovingly, without judgment or criticism. Who will share the burden of my pain without later using it against me.
So I gather my courage, use my discernment, and I take a chance on you.
Does this guarantee that you will be safe for me? No. Does it mean that I should go all in, plunge into the depths of my pain and share it with you? Maybe. Should I put my big toe in the water and see if it’s warm or freezing?
Yes. For only by taking the chance can I find out whether my heart is safe in your hands.
Discernment comes into play when we decide whether to jump in or back away. We learn to recognize the traits of unsafe people, to examine our existing and potential relationships carefully. But the courage to take a chance is the only way to find out.
But be careful, friend. Take a long look in the mirror, without your own mask. What do you see? Do you see a discourager, a rejecter, a judger, a monopolizer? Are YOU safe? Listen, this is important. Are you a bridge burner? It’s possible for us to crave deep relationship with another, without being safe ourselves. If we are to have a shred of hope that this friendship will go the distance, it must be mutual. Reciprocal. We must BE a safe person before we even look for other safe people. Or in other words, know thyself.
Once again, courage and discernment are necessary. I must face the fact that I might be the very thing I fear. I must have the courage to address my own barriers to your safety before I decide to take a chance on you, because you must take a chance on me. Practice being kind, patient, peaceful, joyful. Practice being an encourager, an accepter, a listener. I promise that although practice does not make perfect, it will fundamentally change you. For it is only when you become a safe person that you can hope to see another’s toe in the water, and that eventually the potential is there to clasp hands and jump in the deep end together.
Gather up your courage and take that hard, close look in the mirror. Practice kindness. Practice all the things you’re looking for in a relationship. Be safe for her. Be worth taking a chance on. Only then can you know what you’re looking for, what safety really looks like.
Discernment. Courage. Take a look at your reflection. Your journey to deep connection begins with you.