Our church recently had it's women's retreat at a retreat center not far outside Seattle called Rainbow Lodge. It always amazes me that in a brief drive from Seattle you can be in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by giant fir trees and mountains in a setting fit for Big Foot. Our lodge was an awesome place with a slightly cheesy flare. Each of our rooms had names that invited mockery if you're a cynic. Mine was called Moonrise. It was actually an awesome room with big windows looking out on mossy woods filled with ferns and fir trees. A friend walked by the first night looking for God's Love. Was that a theological question, I thought? We could talk about that for a while. But no, it was just the name of her room. God's Love was near my room, I informed her. The funniest moment for me was discovering the Pledge to the Rainbow, positioned above the stairs.
I pledge allegiance to the rainbow
and to the elation for which it stands,
with balloons for all.
You've got to love a retreat center that names its rooms Moonrise and God's Love and posts Pledges to the Rainbow over its stairwells. What happens at Rainbow Lodge stays at Rainbow Lodge.
The elders' wives at church invited me to hash out ideas I am putting together for a book I hope to write this spring on the Gospel-Centered Woman. One friend made up her own name for the session titles, 'How I could be more like an Ephesian's 31 woman if my husband wasn't such a tool.' That made me laugh.
But seriously, beyond the teaching and the setting, the weekend was a fruitful, meaningful time with friends. One leader said she felt like this group was safe. That word, safe, evokes deep emotions for me.
safe: affording security or protection from harm; secure from risk; worthy of trust.1
I have spent time in many environments, particularly Christian ones, that didn't feel safe. Instead of feeling worthy of trust, they made me feel wary to share myself. To be safe in those environments, I had to know the limits of what I could and couldn't talk about. I felt safe, but only within specific boundaries. This weekend was different—a brief taste of something that is our truth even now in heaven though on earth we don't yet see it fully realized. But it's coming in its fullness one day soon. It's what I call Gospel-Safe Community.
What is it about certain groups of believers that makes them emotionally and spiritually safe? And how does that safety play out practically? I think the crucial practical aspect of gospel-safe environments is that you can be honest. You don't fear admitting mistakes or failures. This isn't the same as glorifying our sins or rejoicing in wrong-doing. No one WANTS to fail. No one wants to get it wrong. But failure is inevitably going to happen at multiple points for all of us. In gospel-safe environments, honesty about our failures is an invitation for people to bear with us and support us, not an invitation for them to condemn and shame.
This is what the gospel does for relationships. How? Well, the term gospel-safe community implies that the others in community also understand the gospel. And inherent to understanding the gospel is acknowledging our own personal and very real sin problem. Gospel safe friends have admitted to themselves how very serious their own problems were/are and how utterly needy they were/are for a Savior to redeem and repair what they could not begin to touch on their own. This is true in terms of our own personal sin, others' sins against us, and our suffering over sickness, death, and all the ways this world is broken.
When we are nestled snuggly in the gospel, we can be honest about the good and the bad in our lives. Gospel-safe environments allow us to speak and to process out in the open. Gospel-safe friends will listen. They'll ask follow up questions. They may share back to you a similar struggle. These are all pieces of emotionally bearing a burden with someone. Their first response won't be advice. Maybe they actually have great advice. But gospel-safe friends won't push it on you. Gospel-safe friends understand it's not their obligation to FIX the problem. Bearing it with you is different than fixing it. That's key. The GOSPEL fixes our problem. Our gospel-safe friends bear with us until the Lord makes it clear exactly how. Maybe they have insight that is helpful, and that can be received, but there is a difference in the tone of advice when we all cling to the gospel and not our own works to solve our core problem in the world.
Was our group at the Lodge perfect? Nope. Not by a long shot. Were there problems? Boy howdy! But there was a TASTE of what God has created us for long term. A taste of what was lost in the fall of man and what is being redeemed day by day through the Cross. And those moments when His glory breaks into our present are beautiful to behold. I had to leave the weekend early due to sickness at my house. Laughter echoed from the dining room into the night as I drove away, and I praised the Lord for the beauty of Gospel-Safe Community.
1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,