Recently I have been thinking a lot about the difference between ‘feeling safe’ – verses – ‘actual safety’. In the ‘Therapy’ world this is referred to as ‘felt safety’
In Psalms 91, God assures us, “ He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”
I saw this played out recently with my son.
We travelled to Tulsa to meet a team of students that gathered at 4:30am in the morning to load onto a bus, which seemed like endless hours, to drive into Mexico.
Take note, that before the trip had actually began, I flew with 2 of my kiddos to Tulsa and arrived at midnight. Literally by the time we reached a place to sleep, we were only able to sleep for a couple hours before getting up again to hit the road.
My son was very tired, but extremely excited about our new adventure and had been anticipating this trip for months, suddenly, realized at the last moment he had forgotten his Pooh Bear.
My son is 11. This may seem like a small feat, but even at 11 he has held onto this raggedy, loved, ole’ bear since he was 6 months old. It was and still is something that makes him ‘feel secure and safe’.
I admit he seems a bit old for the bear. He even knows this. He will hide it when friends come over and will stuff it deep into his bag if he has a sleep over. But for 10 1/2 years there is no place my son would go that Pooh didn’t make his way as well.
However, upon boarding the vans headed for Mexico, he realized he had forgotten POOH!
My first thoughts were, “No big deal! This will be a great bridgeway into teaching my child about his rite of passage into adulthood.” So like any good parent, I presented my son with a challenge that this was ‘his moment.’ —His moment to be a MAN. —His moment to step out of his adolescence and into taking on an adult challenge.
I was sure- he would embrace ‘his moment!’ How did I miss it? How did I not see this reaction coming?
But, looking back, I see my good intentions, missed the bigger picture. It was a ‘Total Parent FAIL’!!!
I did not take into account the level of attachment and security my son had in this bear. You see, to me, it seemed simple. “Just grow up a bit and realize this bear doesn’t make you safe, it’s just a toy. Jesus is enough!”
Reflecting back though, I can see how in this moment I missed the whole point.
I minimized his ‘felt safety’ because he was ‘physically safe.’ I knew he would be just fine. I saw the bigger picture. I knew one day Pooh would be a momentum of the past. He would grow to understand his security wasn’t in a bear, but in Christ.
Needless to say it didn’t transpire like I had imagined.
My son instantly began to argue that he could not go. He sat down and refused to move until he got his bear. He cried and began to act in a way I had never seen him act before.
Of course this melt down was in front of all the parents and students that were joining us on this trip. Embarrassed and frustrated by what looked like outright defiance, I talked, scolded, negotiated, dropped heavy consequences and even threatened to ‘take him to the bathroom to spank him.’
(mind you, he is almost as big as me and it probably would have made him laugh INSTEAD of feeling the weight of consequence)
Nothing I brought to the table worked. In total frustration and even a bit of anger I asked a guy on the trip to help me drag him to the bus. I mean a WHOLE team of tired students were waiting on US to start this long road trip!!!
Kicking and screaming my son was placed in the van and we began our journey.
A few hours of sleep and some heartfelt conversation my son took the initiative to apologize and tell me he would never act like this again. I was glad he apologized, but I still didn’t understand in that moment why he reacted the way he did.
It took me a bit of reflection and lots of prayer for me to realize, my son wasn’t the one who responded wrongly, but me.
Not that his behavior was ok, it wasn’t, but how I responded to his behavior WAS wrong. I instantly assumed he was being defiant and did not see his deeper need. I did not ask, “What does my son need in this moment?” I only asked, “How do I get my son to OBEY?!!”
I’m so thankful God does not parent us like I have found myself parenting at times. He never distances us by attacking our behavior, but always brings us close and addresses the need in our heart.
He is ALWAYS more interested in our heart, our deeper need, our ‘felt safety’ over our behavior. He always asks, “ What does my child need in this moment to trust me?”
God is eternal and always sees the bigger picture. He knows in our moments of crisis we will be just fine. But, He doesn’t react to us. He always responds in a way that addresses our deepest need first.
When we don’t feel safe, He says, “Hide in Me and I will cover you.” When we feel alone, He says, ” Don’t worry I won’t ever leave you.” When we feel discouraged He says, “Lift your head and look at the future I have laid out before you.” He always addresses our ‘felt safety’ FIRST.
You see, my son was responding out of fear. This bear represented and still represents his security and his ‘felt safety.’ When that was removed, he reacted in a normal defense of fight, flight or freeze mode. He locked down and refused to move, until he ‘felt safe’ again.
Can I ask you something? Where do you not ‘feel safe’ today?
Where has life taken you that instead of responding to the voice of your Heavenly Father, you are listening to the lies that you are alone, abandoned, unsafe, or not enough?
Can I share a word of encouragement with you today? Jesus is there. Present in your ‘moment’ of crisis. You are not alone. He sits waiting to hide you, cover you, fill you, speak into you. He waits patiently to wrap His arms around your need and assure you, that you are ‘ safe’ in His arms.
No matter the crisis, situation, loss, or obstacle you face today. He doesn’t wait to judge your defiance and strap consequences on you. No, in fact, He waits to hold you, assure you, and meet your deepest need. Will you trust Him today and allow Him to meet your deepest need to ‘feel safe‘ again.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”