Hey, my friends. Welcome back to Let’s Encourage One Another.
A couple of weeks ago, in episode 49, we talked about finding your stretcher bearers, those people who can carry you through difficult and challenging seasons like illness, grief, and depression.
But how do you choose who to go to for help? Who do you choose as your stretcher bearers?
I know how frightening it can be to want to have someone walk through a season with you, but you just don’t know who you can trust. Maybe you have moved and haven’t had a chance to develop friendships yet, or maybe some friendships have dwindled away and you’re seeking out new ones. Perhaps your good friends just moved away and you know you need to find someone closer.
Maybe you’re at a new church or new school. Or whatever you need to talk about is about church or school, and so you need to find someone outside of that circle so they can offer you an unbiased perspective.
Maybe this is the first time you’ve been in a serious situation and finding someone to talk to about this personal of a thing is new to you. You normally only chat about everyday life, and you’re not quite sure your friends can handle the gravity of the situation you’re going through right now.
Maybe you’re more introverted and so you only have one or two close friends, and you know it’s going to take more than that to get you through this season of hardship, so you need to identify more people who can support you and care for you.
There are a lot of reasons why you may not have identified your stretcher bearers yet. And so today, I want to narrow in on finding those safe people we can trust and depend on. What makes them safe? How do we discern who is safe and who is not?
While there is no definitive answer, I want to suggest some guidelines that will help us pray through who to turn to when we are hurting. And these will probably lean more toward those peer support roles we talked about in episode 49—our friends, family, church members—but they can definitely be applied to more professional roles, too—our doctors and counselors and pastors.
As you listen, I invite you to consider which characteristics are most important to you. Also, are there any that I didn’t include that you want to be sure to add to your own list?
Okay, here we go.
Characteristics of a Safe Person
Number one, a safe person is a good listener. We often turn to someone else because we need someone to listen, we need someone to hear our story. So it makes sense that a safe person would allow you the time and space you need to share. They don’t interrupt you and they don’t turn the conversation around to focus on them. Rather, they listen to you, they don’t try to rush you, and they are fully present with you as you share what is going on in your life and in your heart.
Compare in your mind, for a moment, someone who characterizes this for you versus someone who doesn’t. I’ve had some supervisors where I was trying to talk to them, like actually talk to them about something that was going on, but they answered every knock on their door or every phone message they received. It just makes you feel like you don’t matter, doesn’t it?
But others let the voicemail pick up or put a sign on the door to let others know this wasn’t a good time to knock. They made sure they didn’t have any immediate appointments they needed to be at. Or if they had to be somewhere, they let me know how much time they had to sit with me. They made time and space for me to share what was stirring on my heart. And it made such a huge difference.
In the book Listening for the Soul, Jean Stairs writes, “Over and over again, I am struck by the transforming significance and profound simplicity of the ministry of listening.”
Did you catch that? The ministry of listening. Do you know how healing and powerful it can be to just have someone listen to you?
Can you think of someone like this, who is such an incredibly good listener? They are present and engaged with you as you share? They aren’t quick to fill the silence with their own chatter? Chances are they are one of the first ones who come to mind when trouble comes around. And that is a sign that they are a safe person for you.
Use Empathy Instead of Judgment
Number two, a safe person uses empathy instead of judgment. They will not judge you for whatever is going on in your life, whether that’s grief, depression, anxiety, or job loss. Instead, they will empathize with you and try to understand.
This kind of goes hand in hand with being a good listener, but I feel it’s important enough to stand on its own.
So as someone is listening to you, are they asking questions to try to understand? Or are they barking out sentiments that make you feel foolish and worthless? I’m not even going to share examples out loud because you know what they are.
An empathic listener will truly strive to understand what you are feeling and experiencing. Statements like, “I imagine that was quite frightening” and “That must have been frustrating” and “It sounds like you miss them very much.” It doesn’t mean they necessarily agree with certain choices or behaviors, but they are connecting with you and expressing the hardship of the moment.
In fact, this reminds me of my conversation with Laura Howe about 5 things to say when you don’t know what to say. You can listen to that back in episode 7. She talks about empathizing with someone, even when you don’t agree with some of their choices.
Can Keep Things Confidential
Number three, a safe person can keep things confidential. They won’t share your information with others, intentionally or unintentionally. They’re very good at redirecting or guiding someone else if they ask about you.
If you’ve ever had someone share something that was supposed to be confidential, you know how damaging it can be. It truly can feel like a betrayal. A slap in the face. A kick in the gut.
I remember when something happened to me in high school. Something very personal and upsetting. Something I hadn’t really told anyone about. And I went to school and a classmate mentioned it. And I wasn’t just embarrassed about it (even though it really wasn’t something to be embarrassed about), but I just remember feeling so incredibly betrayed and alone. Like, if I can’t trust this person, who in the world can I trust?
Have you been there? If you value privacy and you’ve had this happen to you, I can easily understand how it would make you want to hide away in a cave and never trust anyone again. And while I am so sorry it happened to you, I also want to encourage you to not let one experience, or even two, prevent you from finding those safe people who can keep your confidence.
So how do you know if this person can keep things confidential? In short, they don’t talk to you about others. You aren’t hearing them talk about the details of someone else’s life unless you know for sure they have permission to do so. I’m always a little weary when someone starts sharing too much with me. I wonder, Does that other person want me to know this? It’s usually a pretty clear sign to me, at least, that I should be careful trusting that individual with personal or sensitive information.
Proverbs 11:13 (NLT) says, “A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence.”
Maybe you’ve found someone you think would keep your confidence, but you’re just not sure yet. If that’s the case, it’s okay to start small. Share something not as intimate or private with them and see how they handle it. If they do so in a way that makes you feel safe and cared for, you can then be more open and vulnerable with something more personal to you.
Willing to Earn Your Trust
Number four, a safe person is willing to earn your trust. When you are hurting, it can take a lot for you to risk being vulnerable and share what is going on in your private world. In fact, it can be hard to do this in so-called “normal” seasons, when there is nothing crushing you beneath its weight.
A safe person will be willing to earn your trust instead of assuming it or demanding it. For example, just because someone is a pastor or counselor, they might assume that you will trust them instead of taking the time to earn your trust, to show they are worthy of it, that they are there for you.
Sometimes the trust is immediate. There is just something about a person can resonates with us so deeply that we find ourselves sharing things incredibly personal.
But more often than not, trust takes time. It takes time to get to know one another. It takes time to be around each other. It takes time to begin sharing your lives with one another and building that foundation. Be willing to take the time. Even with a counselor or pastor, ask the questions you need to ask to feel comfortable around them. Make sure they are a good fit for you, a safe person. It’s okay.
Lets You Decide What to Do
And number five, a safe person lets you decide what to do. In other words, they leave the choice to you. They don’t force you to respond one way or another.
Now, I’m all for seeking advice and feedback when I need it. And if that’s what you are going to them for, then by all means, have them share their thoughts.
What feels unsafe to me is when I share a problem or struggle with someone and then they tell me, “You need to go do these three things.” That really isn’t helpful to me.
The truth is, you’re the one who gets to decide what to do. You get to grieve the way you need to grieve. You get to decide which medical treatment to receive. You get to choose how you’re going to interact in that difficult relationship you have. No one else can decide that for you.
A safe person recognizes that. They recognize and support your right to choose. As long as you aren’t a danger to yourself or others by your choice, they let you decide what’s best.
What Would You Add?
So those are five characteristics of a safe person: they are good listeners, they use empathy instead of judgment, they keep your confidence, they are willing to earn your trust, and they let you decide what you want to do.
I’m sure there are other characteristics we can think of in a safe person. What would you add to this list? What makes someone safe for you? Take time to consider that and write it down.
Another way to help discern this is asking the question, What makes you feel unsafe? If you are interacting with someone and they do something that makes you feel uncomfortable, uneasy, pause to consider what it was that made you feel that way. Were they pushing you for more information than you were ready to share? Did you feel like they were interrogating you? Maybe it was their tone of voice. Did you feel threatened by them for some reason? Did they interrupt a lot? Were they even paying attention to you? Reflect on it and just take note of it. And by identifying those characteristics, we can identify our safe people by making sure they aren’t doing those things.
Asking for Help
Once you identify your safe people, your stretcher bearers, it’s time to ask them for help. Now, I know this can be challenging. It takes a lot of courage to ask for help.
And if this is the case for you, I encourage you to go back to episode 11. In that episode, I start by sharing reasons why we don’t like to ask for help and then move into four steps you can take to get the support you need. Plus, there is actually a free guide you can download to walk you through that process. You can find that guide at lovedoesthat.org/askforhelp.
Are You a Safe Person?
Of course, it’s good for us to consider who our safe people are, but we can also stop and ask ourselves if we are that safe person for others who are hurting. Do we listen to them? Do we approach them with empathy instead of judgment? Do we keep their confidence? Are we willing to earn their trust instead of assuming it or demanding it of them? Do we let them choose what they want to do?
Lift those questions before God and see what He has to share with you. Perhaps you’ve not been so good at listening, really listening, when someone is speaking to you. You thought you were, but now that you think about it some more, you realize you interrupt a lot and that maybe your nonverbal communication is revealing your true thoughts about what they did or didn’t do. Maybe that’s something you need to ask God to help you with.
Because if we want to be there to care for those who are hurting, we need to be a safe person for them.
Soul Care Group
Okay, one more thing before we go. It is a new month and I will soon be sending out the training for the February Soul Care Group. If you are not a yet part of this group, you can join at lovedoesthat.org/soulcaregroup. Each month, we will walk through some spiritual practices together that can help you tend to your soul and stay close to God.
For January, we focused on the theme determined and considered what we are truly determined to do. We practice Scripture writing and imaginative prayer together. For February, we are going to dive into the story of Ezekiel and the Valley of the Dry Bones. I can’t wait. That email will go out around February 5th, so if you sign up before then, you will still get January’s training and then February’s will be here soon.
This is a pay what you can, when you can group, so don’t let money stop you from joining us. Just sign up and learn together with us. Because we need to make sure we are staying close to God, whether we are in a season of hurt ourselves or if we are loving others through their own difficult seasons. Again, you can join us at lovedoesthat.org/soulcaregroup.
Okay, that’s all for today, my friends. Until next time…
- Episode 49: Finding Your Stretcher Bearers: The People Who Can Help Carry You Through a Difficult Season
- Episode 7: 5 Things to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say with Laura Howe
- Episode 11: How to Ask for Help When You Need It
- Free Guide: How to Ask for Help When You Need It
QUOTES AND BIBLE VERSES:
- “Over and over again, I am struck by the transforming significance and profound simplicity of the ministry of listening.” (Jean Stairs, Listening for the Soul)
- “A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence.” (Proverbs 11:13, NLT)
INTERESTED IN SPIRITUAL DIRECTION?
I’d be honored to walk with you through a difficult season and help you discover God’s presence and work in your life.