Now that my brothers and I are adults living in disparate cities, my parents have made sure that their house is always a place we look forward to visiting. They make it a haven we instantly feel comfortable in, relaxed, safe: free to rest or talk or laugh–and most times, all three! The safety we feel there is made possible by the years of good memories of a great childhood and the consistent loving presence of my parents. When I was in college, I wouldn’t go two weeks without coming over and spending time in the safety and comfort of that place.
In similar ways–although nothing can match that comfort of home–there were several families and friends in Dayton who provided that safe place to laugh, to share my excitement and joy, and to talk about the really hard things of life. The safety of those relationships pushed aside my typical relational insecurities, freeing me to love and laugh, listen and learn without the burden of trying to impress them or the anxiety of wondering what they really think about me.
But I’m not in Dayton anymore. And after nearly 7 months in Charlotte, I’m starting to feel the lack.
* * *
The last few weeks have been a strange existential journey for me–although quite mundane, really. Recently life has been quite smooth: I have a good schedule; I’m keeping up with teaching and school; I’m usually getting together with friends at least once a week; I keep a Sabbath rest every week to maintain my sanity; I keep things relatively clean and my schedule relatively organized. My life looks pretty ideal, and many days I convince myself it is.
But recently, I’ve started to notice some of the things going on underneath. I’ve started to see that there’s an underlying anxiety coursing through every human interaction: What are they thinking right now? Do they really want to talk to me or are they just being polite? What should I say? Am I boring? Am I asking too many questions? The right questions? Do I have anything good to say about my own life? Can I make them laugh? Will they want to talk to me again?
And along with the anxiety comes an insecurity that no one will really be interested in the things that I care about, the sad things or the celebrations, so I should probably just not talk about them. Who wants to see someone’s eyes glaze over when you’re talking about something that’s really important to you?
Instead of the security and peace that I found in many of the relationships back home, I find that my anxiety that I won’t find those secure relationships has caused me to set up protective barriers that keep everyone out, while seeking in vain a replacement for what I had before. All this, of course, leaves me feeling pretty isolated and disappointed most days, always striving to do better in my interactions tomorrow so that I can find that approval, meet people’s expectations, and discover that relational safety once again. But as you know, with that approach it’ll never happen!
We’re funny people, aren’t we? When insecurity about having secure relationships defines those relationships, there’s not much hope, is there? And isn’t it such a selfish approach to relationships, focusing our attention solely on being accepted, liked, and valued that we become absorbed in that pursuit or the disappointment of failure and forget the other person entirely? We start dreading human interaction, afraid we’ll just be disappointed again; and we so quickly discard other people’s affirmation, allowing those successes to be overshadowed by imagined failures.
Most days I defend my insecurity and self-protectiveness, citing examples of when people in Charlotte have hurt my feelings or disappointed me. But in all this, there’s a deeper relational problem going on. All this insecurity with other people is really just a symptom of my own insecurity in my relationship with God; I don’t trust God that He will provide me with safety and love in a new place; that He will give me friends who really care.
What I’m starting to see is that the People of God are God’s haven for His children, that place of peace and rest and security in a world far from peaceful and safe. It’s a home that we can find no matter where we go, yet it’s a home we avoid so many times, unable to trust that it’s really that safe of a place; unwilling to believe that God is the most faithful Parent of all; unconvinced that the One who has gone to prepare a place for us in the future that is free from all sorrow, fear, or disappointment is strong enough or loving enough to provide us with a taste of that on earth.
And so as I struggle to overcome my insecurities and allow these wonderful people around me to know me and love me, the first order of business is to learn to trust my Father in Heaven, who has provided this community of people for me to know, love, and enjoy without anxiety. And while it’s a fundamentally scary thing, where else can I go?
And Who else can I really trust?