It’s great to have casual friends, like the relationships we might have with neighbors, work colleagues, and acquaintances in our community. But along with this, we need real friends: close friends, people we can be vulnerable with.
As recent research has shown, loneliness not only lowers the quality of our lives — it affects our health, and therefore, the duration of our lives. It is now commonly understood that loneliness is a key risk factor for early mortality, having the same impact as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and even more dangerous than obesity.
Here’s the thing: casual friends, neighbors, and work colleagues do not end our loneliness. It that were the case, people in urban environments wouldn’t be so lonely. For many people today, their lives are filled with people contact, but not friends. We need real friends, not just associates.
As a pastor of a church, I’m very aware that one of the great benefits of being part of a spiritual community is the depth of fellowship that people can experience there. It’s what I see so many unchurched people missing. At the same time, I also see that too often, relationships in church can be insincere and fraught with conflict and various kinds of dysfunction. Over the years, I’ve come to see that one of the most important tasks of people in church leadership is to guard the integrity and health of relationships among members.
Let’s be honest: even in churches, there are a lot of people who are NOT SAFE. By that I mean, we intuitively sense that if we told them the truth about our lives — the whole truth — they wouldn’t know how to deal with it. They would judge us, try to “fix” us, look down on us, and maybe even distance ourselves from us.
How do you find SAFE people? First, let’s get clear about what we mean by “SAFE.” Let’s use the word as an acronym:
S – Sincere: SAFE people aren’t fake. They don’t try to present themselves as being different than they really are. You sense an honesty and openness about them.
A – Accepting: Around SAFE people, we feel a permission to be ourselves. They might not approve of everything we do or say. They might even — when it’s appropriate — express their concern about us and our behavior (see “forthright” below). But it’s always done with the awareness that our relationship is not at risk. They will love us and include us in their lives even if we struggle.
F – Forthright: We don’t have to guess what SAFE people are thinking and feeling. They will tell us. This means they might have to share a concern with us, but we know they’ll do it honestly, and in love.
E – Encouraging: SAFE people actively seek to build us up, not tear us down. They speak encouraging words to us, and we trust that they will not divulge anything we tell them to others. Continue reading How to Recognize SAFE People