I asked a person out for coffee the other day. It was probably one of the more courageous, terrifying, and vulnerable things I have done in a long time. Their response came a day later with a short reply, “Sure… why not.”
This hit me like a sack of bricks. Insecurities, past experiences and defences all shot up around me. “They aren't excited about who you are; we've been down this way before, and we know how this goes; act like you're not interested and never initiate again; you still have control... play it off cool.”
It was like I was trying to play a wack-a-mole game with my thoughts and emotions, and I was losing. This situation was hard because it was with another human being with whom I was reaching out and seeking a connection. At the first sign of feeling unvalued or unwanted, my protection mechanisms rose, and I wanted to shut down.
Each of our hearts has a landscape formed uniquely by the life circumstances and relations we’ve experienced. The topography looks different depending on how either sin or the Holy Spirit has influenced it. Our past hurts form pathways we swear never to walk in again. Some zones of our hearts house dark shadow areas, areas we fear that if others see, they would judge us for what is there. Or worse, they would confirm the insecurities we worry are true. And how do we usually cope with such a diverse internal landscape? We mask up, distance ourselves, put our best foot forward and hope that people won't ask too many questions or get too close.
If we feel someone nearing those places we've sworn never to venture into again or allow others to see, we are quick to back away. The Marry Poppins bag of excuses gets pulled out, “I'm too busy or too tired; life just got hectic; they don't feel like the right friend to me anymore; they did _______ the other day, and I don't feel like I know them like I used to; I feel like I just don't understand them; we don't have much to talk about anymore.”
It is an issue present throughout the scriptures as well. The writer of Hebrews encourages the members to “not give up meeting, as some are in the habit of doing (Hebrews 10:24-25).” Although there are times when our backing away is for protection, particularly as our minds detect the red flags of unhealthy relationships, my guess is that often these instincts come too soon and without enough information.
If we are to engage in deep, authentic community, we need to begin thinking about the areas of our hearts that are off-limits and why this is the case. How do our interactions in the present remind us of past experiences or insecurities? In what ways do they initiate disengagement with others, having us think they are the same types of situations that caused hurt before? What if, instead of thinking that anytime someone didn't reply to a text that it meant they didn't like us, we thought instead about the person's heart intentions, holistic personality, or schedule? Or, instead of jumping to believing everyone eventually leaves us, we consider the main events in our lives where people have left, and give room for the Holy Spirit to heal those deep hurts? If we do this, we allow Jesus room to add new narratives to our relationships, where people stay, push in and see our value. It's a choice where we decide to trust Jesus, his love for us and his desire for us to flourish in community.
We develop open hearts to others as we give Jesus space to speak our true value to us and heal our past hurts. This is not about first healing entirely, and then pushing into community. It is about simultaneously discovering the healing opportunities as they arise while seeking to be the community we wish for. Jesus is calling us to be the change we desire others to be for us.
As we step into doing this with intentionality, wisdom, and discernment through the Holy Spirit, we will discover the bountiful blessing Jesus has for us. We can begin to see the terrain of our hearts from his perspective, allowing him to flatten hills and change our internal landscape through new experiences. He can show us how his loving light shines bright amid a messy, sinful community. Love, grace, and compassion can be cultivated as his people gather. As Paul speaks to the Romans (1:12), we can mutually encourage each other's faith when we live in a community. The place we once assumed was scary and off-limits could become where we find the deepest belonging and growth.
Reflections and Considerations:
In what ways might Jesus be inviting you to more profound healing and forgiveness?
What identity truths is the Holy Spirit whispering to you that speak against the deprecating lies in your heart?
How would protecting your hurts and insecurities lend to bondage more than freedom?
How does armouring up to protect ourselves from hurt and shame stop you from experiencing the complete resources of the Father's blessings that he wishes to shower on you?
How could discovering a deeper community illuminate the love of God to you?
Where is the Holy Spirit lovingly inviting you to step out into trust?
How can you be the change you wish to see in your community?