We had only just met when I moved across the country. He was a little bundle of squishy, squealing preciousness. I spent one week with him, breathing in that new baby smell and trying to memorize all his perfect little features. And then I moved. I have visited him a few times since then, but periodic face-to-face interactions and monthly phone calls are not really sufficient to build trust with a toddler. Last week, I scooped him up and squealed his name, and he hit me in the face. Blood relations don’t carry much meaning with little ones, apparently 😉 It was very clear to me who his “safe people” are. You know, those people he will run to when he gets hurt or tired or hungry. Those people he will melt into and cuddle.
I have “safe people” too: People I will cry with, complain to, or turn to for advice. People I will “melt” into…a safe haven where I can just breathe deep and be wholly myself. Some of these people are family by blood, but some are people who have earned my trust and affection over time. I would imagine that you know who your “safe people” are too.
Ultimately, we all need that safe haven, don’t we? I believe that is what the Divine longs to be for us. Deuteronomy 32 paints this beautiful image of God being like a mother eagle caring for her young: “Like the eagle that stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young, God spreads wings to catch you, and carries you on pinions.” I have watched this beautiful dance unfold between so many parents and their children…this dance of trust. Think about the countless hours a mama spends feeding, rocking, and cooing at her babe. Thousands and thousands of moments that add up to this pivotal bond of attachment and trust.
In my work context, I see the effects of a void overtaking the place of this “safe person”: Anger, resentment, indiscriminate affection and sexual promiscuity, inappropriate attention seeking behaviors, violence and resistance to others’ attempts at connection… So much brokenness. We are hardwired to need a “safe person,” and to develop that bond over countless hours of connection and trust-building. We are hardwired to crave a safe haven, and our human relationships are so often the very best way we understand how the Divine relates to us. It goes without saying, then, that there are a lot of people wandering this planet with a broken understanding of the Divine’s nurturing tenderness. People who have been broken and discarded by other human beings. People who have had weak bonds of trust shattered again and again until they have given up even trying to forge relationships at all. So how do we help someone understand the nurturing tenderness of the Divine toward humanity? How do we invite others into the nest of this Mother Eagle tending her young?
I have thought a lot about this, and I think the answer is that we become the safe place. The only way to help an abandoned child learn the attachment dance is to go back to the beginning…to recreate those thousands of moments of connection, of faithfully meeting tangible physical needs. I wonder if it’s not the same with mirroring the love of the Divine to humanity. We become the safe place…we learn how to nurture and defend others. We develop practices of face-to-face connection with those we are called to care for and love. We earn the trust of others through hours of time spent being WITH them and meeting physical needs. We listen well. When we encompass this kind of nurturing tenderness, I believe we point those around us to a deeper reality. We become the hands and feet of Jesus….and the sheltering wings of the Divine. Humanity is desperate for this nurturing tenderness, to be cradled and protected from the darkness all around us.
I had a hand painted wooden sign hanging over the door frame in my Indiana house. It proclaimed these words: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge” (Psalm 91:4). My prayer was that the little white house would become a refuge and haven for all who would enter beneath that door frame. I no longer own that little house, but I have come to believe that people can be a refuge and haven too.
May we be and become the safe spaces where the weary and burdened find rest and renewal…a taste of the Divine.