Creating Safe Space: What Does Acceptance Look Like?

Creating Safe Space: What Does Acceptance Look Like?

As a young person in my twenties I was in need of safe space: My life was a mess. Failed relationships, moral decline, wrong decisions and harmful behaviors had led to growing anxiety and depression that was becoming paralyzing. But I knew it was my fault, and I didn’t know where to turn. I had been estranged from church for many years and despite a hopeful—even desperate—longing that there was at least some kind of spiritual lifeline available, I knew I couldn’t fake it enough to make it in church. But a close friend created a safe space of acceptance for me. He reached out to ask questions and listened. He wasn’t shocked by my responses and didn’t try to disagree, correct or inform me. He just accepted me and created the safe space I needed to be vulnerable and face myself. That was a turning point in my life and began a journey of healing, although of course, I have and will need many more such times.

Acceptance is a core value for us at Cedar Ridge. Only in an atmosphere of acceptance can vulnerability thrive. In a critical, judgmental atmosphere where you have to earn acceptance, real honesty is almost impossible. And if we can’t be honest, we can’t really be our true selves, face our demons, and begin a process of change and healing. The irony is that spiritual communities are supposed to be the safest places on earth and yet so often become the opposite as they give way to religious dogma. Rather than being places where we can be the most honest and get the most help, they can become places where we have to be the most fake, project an acceptable standard, deny our brokenness, and cover up our sense of inadequacy with religious busyness. But we long to let go; we long for acceptance. That’s surely why Jesus worked so hard to challenge the religious establishment and create a culture of acceptance all around him—interacting with lepers, prostitutes and pagan centurions (the military enemy), and inviting people as diverse as tax collectors and politically motivated Zealots to be in community together. Without this acceptance, healing and the journey to wholeness would be impossible.

Acceptance is rooted in love and its greatest enemy is fear. We’re afraid we might be wrong to accept someone, even though it doesn’t mean we have to agree with them. We’re afraid that accepting might insinuate someone is right, and then what does that say about us? We’re afraid that God is somehow watching and approving or disapproving of who we show love and acceptance to. Perhaps we’re just afraid of the “other” and people we don’t understand. We all have to own the fact that there are people we find it hard to accept. They may not be lepers or prostitutes or tax collectors (we’re way too tuned in to religion to judge them). But it’s certain kinds of people, with certain kinds of viewpoints and certain ways of doing things. We all have them: people we try to keep at a distance; people for whom we hold a certain disdain.

But love overcomes fear, and love is the most powerful force in the universe. That’s why Jesus called us to love, and that’s why Jesus lived and died and came back to life. The power of the resurrection we celebrate at Easter is love, and it creates a dynamic new society of acceptance. A community like this will be full of people who are very different: black and white, young and old, republican and democrat, gay and straight, male, female and transgender. A community like this will most likely have a lot of disagreements, but will work them out lovingly and honestly. A community like this will most likely be messy because we are being open about our problems and creating safe space for those who need help. A community like this will not always feel comfortable, but will be a compellingly irresistible place for those who long for acceptance and a safe place to grow.

That’s the kind of community we endeavor to be here at Cedar Ridge: broken people with great hope because we know there is great love.