I really don't know how to start this post because I don’t really have a great story to share or example to give. Don’t misunderstand me, I have encountered many people who I would consider “unsafe” but I don’t really know how to tell those stories without incriminating them which is not my goal. So what is my goal?
My goal is to help the person who is struggling with things alone find the courage to reach out but also give them fair warning about who they should and should not reach out to. As I have said many times before, broken things can’t be fixed in the dark, so in order to find healing and help we have to open up about what we’re experiencing, however, being wise about who we open up to cannot be overstated. So with that in mind, here’s my thoughts on finding safe people.
First let's define a safe person. They are people who will respond appropriately, will act accordingly, and will respect privacy where it is merited. Let’s break these down a bit. Respond appropriately means that they will be honest and kind. I think some may assume that when I say people are safe that means they are nice, and forgiving, and will tell me it’s all ok but that may not be true. If my struggle is pornography and masturbation I don’t need someone telling me it’s ok, because it isn’t. I need someone who can be honest about the wrong I’m doing while still maintaining a stance of “in it together” rather than judgement.
For a person to act accordingly it requires some wisdom on their part which we will talk about later. If I’m struggling with suicidal thoughts or cutting I don’t need a person to say they’ll pray for me and walk away. I need a person who knows and understands life, who is seasoned, who will act on my behalf when I don’t know what steps to take next. I need a person who doesn’t necessarily know what to do, but knows where to find out.
Lastly, a safe person respects privacy when it’s merited. I have been in far too many prayer request/gossip meetings. I need to know that if privacy is merited, that the person I am sharing it with will honor that. You may be thinking, “When is privacy not merited?” Well, self harm for instance is a struggle that can’t go unmonitored and so it will need to be shared selectively but if I go to a person and share the trouble I’m having getting along with my wife, I don’t need them sending out a prayer request on my behalf on facebook.
So now that we have a working definition of what a safe person is, the antithesis becomes fairly obvious. Safe people aren't the people who you are stuck in sin with, for example your drinking buddies aren’t going to respond appropriately to your alcoholism. Safe people aren’t your peers who are naive to your struggles either. It’s the example of a teenage girl getting advice about sex from another teenage girl. They lack the necessary perspective to act appropriately. Lastly, safe people aren’t random strangers. Sometimes being unknown, or not seeing someone again makes us feel safer to share, but anonymity is only important so long as it protects us from unsafe people. Respecting privacy is only as valuable as the relationship it is grounded in.
So what should you look for as you scan the people in your life? Humility is key. if a person is arrogant or conceited, they are very likely unsafe. Wisdom and age are helpful places to start. While it is definitely true that not every person who is older than you is wiser it’s worth weeding out the peers who lack any additional life experience to be able to help you. Think about the people around you whom you respect. There is a reason you are drawn to them, because they seem to have it together. As you reach out to them you’ll soon find out they don’t have it all together. It’s likely they’ve been through some struggles of their own.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that unsafe people aren’t bad people. They just aren’t ready to help you through your own stuff because they are likely stuck in the middle of their own. Sure, some unsafe people are bad in that they would use your secrets against you or join you in your secrets to help themselves feel less alone, but in general they just lack the necessary skills to be of help to you. Honestly, you may even be an unsafe person at the moment, but you’ll learn and grow, and through the painful things you have survived, you will bring others hope.
Do you have safe people? Can you identify the safe people around you? What would it look like to take a small risk with them and share openly to find out for sure if they are safe?
I hope you’ll call them today. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.