At the restaurant, we laughed until our sides hurt and tears streamed down our faces. It wasn’t until I was driving home later, tears streaming down my face yet again, that I realized exactly what had been happening in that moment.
I was having dessert with two of my closest friends – a desperately-needed night out. (At a local cafe known for its desserts larger than the average human head, these three mamas were probably more excited than we should have been about not having to share our cake.) The waiter wrote our orders down, then asked what we wanted to drink.
Shelley, true to herself, asked for the wine list. No one flinched.
Sabrina, true to herself, requested coffee, “Decaf, please.” No one flinched.
And the whole time they’d been ordering, I’d been going back and forth in my mind. Do I ask for what I really want, or do I go with the flow and order what might be expected? Can I be true to myself? Is this going to be okay?
Really, what I was asking, was, “Am I safe here?”
When the waiter turned to me, pen in hand, I took a leap. True to myself, I said, “Wellllll…..y’all are going to laugh so hard at me if I order what I really want……but can I get a big glass of milk?”
And you know what? They may have flinched a little from the surprise, but it was okay.
“You do you, Jess. Go for it.”
The waiter came back with the tray of drinks – a crystal wine glass, a large ceramic coffee mug, and a tall tea glass obviously filled with milk.
A grin on his face, our patient server said, “This is possibly the strangest tray I’ve ever had. What am I even doing here? This is the most fun table I’ve had in a long time!”
As he set the tray down, we all laughed hysterically. It was, admittedly, a funny sight. All three of us pulled out our phones to take a picture.
It really was hilarious (though probably not quite so funny in its retelling). As I drove home, I realized that it was powerful, too: three friends, gathered around cake…and being one hundred percent truly themselves. The memory made me smile….but it also stirred something inside me that hadn’t been reached quite like that in a long time. That’s when the tears came again.
I’ve written before about my struggle with community…about the walls I built around me to protect me from getting hurt…about how it’s been scary for me to step outside the safety of those impenetrable walls and become vulnerable again. When you’ve been hurt, the possibility of intimate relationships pales in comparison to the reality that painful rejection often comes along with it. Relationships are between people, after all. None of us are perfect, and our imperfections collide in painful ways. When you’ve felt that firsthand, it feels dangerous to put yourself out there again. It’s scary to be fully and authentically true to yourself when that vulnerability has hasn’t been reciprocated or, worse, has been met with scorn.
It’s easy to believe that it’s not worth the risk.
It’s easy to give up on feeling safe with another person, so the walls go up. We’re lonely behind those walls, and don’t usually feel quite like we expected it to…but it still feels better than the heartache that awaits us outside. When faced with the certainty of pain, we often retreat to secure isolation…rather than maintaining hope in safe intimacy.
To feel completely safe with someone? That’s a gift we all want but don’t trust ourselves to look for.
The need for safety is a basic one. In 1943, the psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed that a hierarchy of human needs drives everything we do. According to his research, the need to feel safe is a basic need of all humans, only behind our physical needs of food and water. We need to feel safe, and only once we find that security can we move to the next of our needs: love, friendship, and belonging.
A true friend encourages us, comforts us, supports us like a big easy chair, offering us a safe refuge from the world. ~H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
In the absence of safety, human connection isn’t possible. When we feel safe, though, the intimacy we crave – that we were created for – comes within reach.
Safety creates sacred spaces.
And that’s what happened in that restaurant late on a Friday night. My heart felt safe, and I could be most truly myself. As my friendship with Shelley and Sabrina had developed, my protective walls began to come down. Over time, I began to break them down…brick by brick…to let them in. Over time, the bricks that had once been used to keep everyone out became stacked again. This time, though, I was building something else: a relationship that only God could have engineered.
So friend, the point of this long and rambling message is simply this: let’s be safe places for each other. Judgment free zones where we can be our truest selves. Honest places where our differences can be celebrated and not hidden. Loving places of unconditional acceptance. Spaces where we can be who God made us to be, quirks and all – where we can be the glass of milk in a crowd of more grownup beverages. Places where we know laughter isn’t critical, but is a sign of the love that is critical to our survival. It’s a need we all share. If we meet that need in each other, amazing things can be built. Lives can literally be changed.
I speak from experience.