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Looking for a safe place

As I coach young people, helping them work through their junk and move toward the greatness God has deposited in them, I find that over and over again, they struggle with foundational identity issues – questions still unresolved from their upbringing. In every group of young people, you …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
As I coach young people, helping them work through their junk and move toward the greatness God has deposited in them, I find that over and over again, they struggle with foundational identity issues – questions still unresolved from their upbringing.
In every group of young people, you can tell the ones who have been
well-loved. When we coached a World Race team, Shanda Dodd was one. Shanda is not easily rattled; she’s OK with her imperfections. She
doesn’t need to impress you. And I’ll bet that if you were a fly on the
wall looking at her home life as an adolescent, you’d see that her
parents accepted her for who she was and encouraged her to stretch
herself, to explore the bounds of her potential and gifts.

Something in all human beings needs that – to be loved wholly and completely without
reservation. We need to know we’re OK. We’re safe; we can relax.
Conditional love is a cheap substitute for the real thing. How many of us grew up hearing things like, “I love you, but please be more
punctual.” Or, “I love you, but we have to do something about your

“I love you, but…” is not a safe place to be. It lights the fires of
discontent under us. It feels like pressure – pressure to change. Love
an adolescent that way, and you’ll get rebellion much of the time.
People, whether young or old, get pressure from so many places in
their lives anyway. A few pressure sources:

o    Friends – as in, “Here’s what you need to do to fit in.”
o    Churches – as in, “Confess that you’re a sinner.”
o    Boss – as in, “You fell short of your goal last month.”
o    Finances – they think, “How will I make ends meet?”
o    Family – they think, “Why do they always criticize me?”
o    Media – they think, ” I’m always depressed by the news.”

All this pressure tells us, “It’s not safe here.” And if we don’t have a safe place to which we can
retreat, something has to change. A soul under pressure is inherently
unstable. The pressure needs an outlet. And so we begin to create an identity in the things we do. It may start out innocuously, but over time, we morph into an imposter, a poser desperate for reality.
It doesn’t have to be. Our true self is good enough. Take a good look in the mirror. How do you define yourself? How do others define you? If it’s a false self, then maybe it’s time to stage a jailbreak.

Comments (12)

  • I think i will accept you today Belinda ,,,just as i am accepted by God!…Making myself a safe place for me and others,,,

  • Sigh…a perfectly timed observation as I work through my own childhood issues with a phenomenal counselor and see how the hurts I so absorbed and railed against insidiously worked their way into my core being so much that it became generational. I weep for my parents for me, and my adult sons, but also know that healing is possible. And for this I also weep.

    But the wounds are healing. And I pray that my home and family structure will be a safe place from this day forward.

  • Help me understand your second bullet point “confess that you’re a sinner.”

    Isn’t that key in understanding God’s grace and unconditional love for us? I have to know & understand that Jeremiah 17:9 is all about me. I am deceitful and desperately sick. I need a savior who can heal my sinful heart and make me whole.

    Romans 5:8 is so powerful b/c it says “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus sacrifice was unconditional. We do nothing to deserve it before or after we confess, repent and then start learning to live like Him.

    I don’t want to be the squeaky wheel here, & I am sure you didn’t intend that statement to come across as I took it.

    If I read it to mean “I’m really not that bad” there may be others who did also. I have to own my own inherent sinfulness. If I’m not that bad, then why did Jesus die?

    Thank you for you hard work and intentional ministry around the world. I was part of a trip w/ you to Tampico back in 1995 & it changed the way I live, the way I think, the way I process information.

    Keep up the good work.


  • Actions and statements that say “I’d love you better if….” are also dangerous. If you made better grades, or didn’t embarrass me in public, or kept your room clean all the time, etc. These lead to a performance based acceptance that can turn someone into a “people pleaser”. Hopefully we can encourage our children to be “God pleasers” so they don’t fall into the deadly lifestyles of “do better” and “you are never enough”. Our heavenly Father is not the taskmaster that many earthly parents are.
    Resting in Him, Looking to Him for my approval! Sherri

  • Wes, I think he meant just the pressures and expectations in general that churches can exert. Not that we’re not sinners. Sometimes churches can try to push you into fitting a certain mold. You know, that church where if you don’t go up for the altar call at least once a month then you must be backsliding. 😉

    This is really timely in my life, Seth. These are all things that I’ve known in theory, but am working at really exploring how to be free of them in practice. I grew up with some conditional, very performance-based love from my Dad. Only now that I have a son of my own am I realizing how deep that goes and what I need to change to not pass it on. Thanks for laying it out like that.

  • I’ve found the younger citizens of the human race to be a life giving source of unconditional love.

    Last night I spent with extended family. After dinner, we all went outside and sat around in lawn chairs talking. It was a beautiful evening.

    I spent a long time playing with my two little nieces – they are two and four years old. Tried teaching them how to blow a piece of grass between their thumbs and make it whistle. Imitating me, they would stick a piece of grass in their mouths, puff out their little cheeks, but no sounds would come! Yet they squealed in laughter anyways…

    Getting tired, I laid down in the cool grass by my brothers, listening to them chatter away… discussing running, comparing best track and cross-country times… in short, practicing the fine art of reminiscing.

    Seeing someone down on their level, my nieces raced inside returning with little pillows and blankets so they could join me. Watching and contemplating the deep blue sky and faintly visible hazy silver moon didn’t last long though, soon the three of us were playing “steal the pillow,” a new game I didn’t even know existed! As part of the game, my two year old niece took special delight in running up and jumping on me. I figured that must be one of the ways she gained more points, but I’m not sure.

    At one point, when they were settled down and quiet, little Kailee looked at me and said, so innocently, “Uncle Nacky?”

    “What, Kailee?”

    “I love you.”

    “I love you too, Kailee.”

    That four year old curly, red-haired bundle of joy and dimpley smiles can get me choked up. And really make me feel special.

  • Hey Nick, that was a beautiful experience! I agree, kids are the best examples at unconditional love. I believe that they are what we would be if our societies didn’t train it out of us. The other day, I bought ice cream for some kids at a dance school where I work. They said thank you and everything. Afterwards, they made a card that told me how much they love me, and I just met those kids that day!

    This is a very timely blog for me. Adults put pressure on each other. Even when people love you unconditionally, if they pressure you on how you should be, you can end up determining your identity or your worth on your performance, your possessions, and how you fit in society. Kids are happy just to be with you.

  • This makes me wonder if I really did a good job of loving my children unconditionally. They seem to be fairly stabel and comfortable with their imperfections, few as they are(IMHO)
    Good blog, though I did resonate with Wes on the second point.

  • Not just “I’m OK, You’re OK” but totally accepted in the Beloved.

    Thank you, I needed this today.

  • Is there really any such thing as unconditional love on this earth? Isn’t it the case that to a greater or lesser extent we all love people more or less depending on their behaviour? Isn’t that why we find the unconditional love of God so utterly incomprehensible and why grace is so difficult to live in? There is still a burning urge in us to do something to deserve it or justify its giving to us. Failure is so heavy on our hearts because it is so very tough to believe that God isn’t disappointed with us after what we just did.

    Maybe in truth life is journey towards unconditional love, step by little step increasing our ability to love other people like that and slowly but steadily agreeing with God that actually He does love us that way already. That He doesn’t accept us because of our behaviour, but because of Jesus.

    I honestly wonder if anyone truly arrives at a place of unconditional love in both receiving and giving on this earth. Fully. Maybe that’s what it means in that great chronicle to love of 1 Cor 13 when Paul talks about seeing through a glass darkly. The truth of unconditional love is like a bar of soap. You can hold it for a time, then something happens and it flies out of your hand again. I guess the trick is to keep on picking up the soap, knowing it’s true, coming closer to its truth little by little.

  • I can relate to this story. I’m 52 now and have been through a lot of mental and emotional suffering. I was really insecure as a child and always felt like a failure at everything. kinda, like Charlie Brown. I was not a really good student, but I did liked to read. This probably was the only thing that saved me. A voratious desire to learn. My parents were both severely abused children. My father was an angry brow beating person ,and my mother was always the eternal victim desperately seeking the kindness and acceptance of strangers. Ironically, they were both loving parents, and again this most likely saved my soul from greater torments. I always felt that I had something to share, to prove not only to others , but mainly to myself. The hardest lesson I’ve had was learning to love myself unconditionally. I’ve always loved my friends unconditionally even when they spat upon me and betrayed me,but learning to love myself as I am was hard. I’ve gotten over much of this even though it was always a constant struggle. I have the lord now who loves me no matter what. I don’t have to say to myself, “I love myself after I achieve this” until then, I’m unworthy of anyone. The lord has been changing my life quickly. Especially since I’ve given eveything over to him.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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