“I just want someone I feel safe with.”
With every cross-cultural move I have found myself thinking this, saying this, praying for this.
Some people I know seem to be themselves regardless of who they are with. They are warm, affectionate, and make you feel at ease right away. They seem relaxed and not unguarded.
But I find myself being cautious. I am Dominican by birth, American by passport, living in the Middle East.
I am Swirly: the little girl in a story who moves geographically a lot. With every move she gets a new swirl on her skin – by the end of the story her skin is a collection of swirls from all the people and places she has lived in.
Sometimes I don’t know which side of myself will come out when I am with others. I never laugh as much or as readily as I do when I am with other Dominicans. But then, there’s this American side of me, with concerns, passions and more importantly, a way of life, that Dominicans don’t always get. Then there’s the people I meet overseas who only have this current side of me. They have no idea of gifting, past experiences, and what has shaped me.
With every new swirl of my heart, there is a needed knowing that must happen. I don’t always feel safe around others if I don’t feel known or that I know them well.
I tend to want to gauge people, know where they are at and where they are coming from, before I feel freedom to be myself more fully. Often, I just want to care for others, make sure they are seen, and feel seen. Other times I am guarded because I am not sure whether someone will really get where I am coming from. Sometimes my cautiousness stems from a desire to not be divisive or imposing (maybe their convictions are very different than mine).
While I am sure there is some wisdom in being cautious, sometimes I just miss being me. You know what I’m talking about? Is it just me or do you also feel that the longer we are expats we feel perpetually displaced in relationships? Maybe that will change. Maybe we’ll be in this current country long enough that that feeling will lessen.
In the meantime, where do we find hope in a seemingly endless season of displacement? Where does confidence come from to freely love others and let them in when we don’t know if they will understand us? What makes us push more deeply into community that appears to be very different from us?
I have wrestled with these questions for years.
I still remember sitting in church one Friday morning (the day of worship in that country) and listening to Psalm 27 being read:
“Though an army deploys against me,
my heart will not be afraid;
though a war breaks out against me,
I will still be confident.”
Confident. Confident. That word jumped out at me. I had only been in that country a couple of months and I didn’t feel very safe with people around me. And yet here was the psalmist saying, “An army of people may deploy against me, my heart will not be afraid.”
God’s Word always diagnoses our hearts and that day Psalm 27 helped me understand that under the cautiousness of wisdom there was a big layer of self-protection. My heart had been afraid. Afraid of being judged, of being rejected, of being misunderstood, and sometimes – because of pieces of my story – of being dominated or lorded over.
So, I went back to the beginning. I needed to re-read this psalm. What was the source of his confidence? How could he feel safe?
The one true God was his light and his salvation. He had made God his refuge. He was so safe in God that when others came to attack him, they were the ones who got hurt. He knew his safety was with the Lord, as he worshipped Him.
As long as his eyes were set on the glory of the Lord as the reality that defined him, he was safe. The more consumed he was with the beauty of God the more he trusted in the Lord’s deliverance, and in the Lord being for him.
My Father placed me inside of Jesus when I put my faith in him. This has been true for the last 30 years of my life since I believed. But it has only been as an adult that I have been consciously learning to live by the power of the gospel. With every cross-cultural move my Father has pressed in more deeply, gently peeling away at the layers of self-protection one by one.
He is teaching me to live in the good of my oneness with Jesus Christ. I am perpetually and gloriously placed in Christ no matter where I live. In Him, I am never displaced. The wonder of it all is He is also gloriously in me, living his life through me. What is his, is mine, including His trust in the Father. Because He knows He is safe in His Father, I know it too.
From that place of safety I can press in to love others, even when it feels risky. I can invest in a friend even when I know she is leaving in a few months. I can actively move toward difficult people that trigger hurts and stir up wounds instead of running away from them. Through Christ I can see their own suffering and hurt. In Him, I can be transparent and minister from a place of weakness because Christ is my strength. I can also say no and set boundaries without fearing people because I am free.
So here I am, very much a work in progress. Learning to be who I am and to live out all that Christ is in me and through me, one relationship at a time.
Sister, in Him, we have the safety we crave. Oh for faith to keep laying hold of all He is holding us for.
Do you feel displaced in relationships? What motivates you to keep investing into transient friendships? Are you more guarded the longer you live overseas or not? Why?
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