A Safe Sanctuary

sanctuary

The snow is blowing all around us. 8 feet of snow piled on every side. When we open the back door it piles through the doorway. No one is even bothering to shovel because there is no where to put it.

By contrast the inside of our apartment is warm and dry. Bright daylight pours through the windows. Warm blankets fall over couches, evidence of their recent use. Pillows sit haphazardly on chairs, ready to be arranged by the one who sits down.

A well-stocked refrigerator, hot drinks, plenty of fruit and vegetables — all of these are present.

We have a safe sanctuary away from cold, wet, snow, and ice. In this space we are impervious to the elements that rage on the outside. Security and safety are all here, within these walls, in this space.

I think about this, and about safety. In a moment it could all change and I know this. Safety is something of an illusion. On Sunday night I saw this yet again as I heard the news that a beloved priest was tragically killed in a car accident. He leaves behind his young wife and six children. He was driving home from his Parish when snow began to fall and suddenly with no warning driving conditions were no longer safe. Nothing could have prepared the family. Life changed in a moment for them. 

Safety – what is it? We can be in dangerous places and yet safe because we know who protects us. We can be in secure places and feel frightened. Physical safety is relative.

I think about storms that rage, whether they be physical storms or emotional storms, and how important it is to have a sanctuary, but also how having a sanctuary is a privilege. A huge privilege.

Know your safe people and cry and laugh with them. Be kind to those who aren’t safe, but don’t let them into your sanctuary.

I wrote the words above in a piece called “Dear New Mom” and as I think about safety and sanctuary, I revisit them.  Where does vulnerability fit into all of this? A heart surrounded by ice, thinking the ice prevents it from being broken, is little good to anyone. A friend reminded me of the words below by CS Lewis. She wrote them in response to my piece on connecting the head and the heart.

‘Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket of selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change, it will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.’

There is being vulnerable and then there is being safe. Can safety and vulnerability coexist?

I think they have to. Particularly at different points in our lives. Only when we feel safe can we be vulnerable. When we are in the midst of a crisis, be it a marital or other crisis, it’s difficult to be vulnerable. Because all of our safeguards are gone.

When we let people who are not safe into the sanctuaries of our souls they tend to break things. They take those fragile pieces and treat them poorly, throwing them around, tossing out words and behaviours that shatter our safety. And when those fragile pieces break, it can take a lot of work to put them back together. Trust is broken easily, but repaired slowly.

Several years ago I heard a story about a public school in New York City that wanted to take down the fence around the school yard. I’m not sure why, perhaps they wanted children to feel more freedom. But the opposite happened: instead of more freedom, children huddled together in the middle of the play ground. They were afraid and they could not move freely. When they had the fence, they could run and play, there was safety around the perimeter and it made all the difference. The fence, instead of constricting, gave freedom.

We need fences in the sanctuaries of our souls. We are not made to be emotionally naked with everyone, everyone is not safe. But with proper fences, we have freedom to be vulnerable. 

So know your safe people, and be vulnerable with them. But keep proper fences, not walls that cannot be penetrated, but fences that allow freedom around the sanctuary of your soul.

Blogger’s note: Just a note that the first couple paragraphs of this was written in the middle of a snow storm. There are no snow storms raging around me right now, and for that, I am grateful!

7 thoughts on “A Safe Sanctuary

  1. Thanks for this! The story about the fence sounds like a paraphrase of the following parable. It appears in G. K. Chesterton’s 1908 book Orthodoxy (Chap. IX) —

    >
    We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased.
    >

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  2. This is such a beautifully written piece – I love the title – no powerful in today’s day and age. Just reread my piece from 2012, “At the Principal’s Office.” So happy to have connected with you and your readers.

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