As our project in Chad is finishing up, I look back and think of a few regrets I have. The biggest is that I never formed a community of people that I can be vulnerable with. I have friends here, and we spend time with other missionary families, but I can’t say that I took the time to find safe people here.
I learned about safe people when Robert and I started marriage counseling and recovery 7 years ago. During that time, I learned that safe relationships are where we can be present with one another, connecting on a deep level; we receive grace and acceptance with no condemnation, giving us freedom from the fear of rejection; we can speak the truth to one another, confronting each other as needed. (Cloud-Townsend, Safe People) These types of relationships are not easily formed. They take time and energy and vulnerability.
Being an introvert, it’s never been easy for me to make safe friends. I have lots of friends whom I don’t mind sharing some intimate details, but there aren’t many with whom I’m truly vulnerable.
I wasn’t always this guarded. I built a lot of walls to guard my emotions after my dad passed away. And I built these walls even higher when my marriage fell apart. I was embarrassed, angry, and disappointed and wasn’t ready to share those feelings with anyone. Through counseling and support groups, I learned who my safe people are, but I still struggle with letting my walls down around them.
I thought this would make being a missionary easier – that it would help me to not be lonely while so far from family and friends. But this year has taught me that I was wrong. I’ve learned that wherever I am, I need to be vulnerable with people who are physically close to me – not a phone call, text, or email away.
I noticed on our first trip to Chad that there was a great missionary community here. I thought we’d fit in right away. I didn’t think my walls would keep me from immediately connecting with new people. But they did.
When we first arrived, I was exhausted from the transition and enjoyed spending time alone and with the friends we already had here. It wasn’t until the New Year when I realized that while these friends are great, they’re not as familiar or safe to me as my friends back home are. I was so homesick then that I didn’t have the energy to try and connect deeper, to be vulnerable with these friends.
I wish I would have responded differently. If I could go back to last September, I would try and force myself to be vulnerable and develop a safe community among the missionaries here in Chad.
But since going back is impossible, I can only take this regret and learn from it.
I can fully embrace my safe people from now on. I realize how important they are and how much I need my them around me. I want to sit on their couches and have them sit on mine and talk to them face to face. I want to tear down my walls and let them in completely.
I don’t want to take these friendships for granted. I don’t want to hold myself back from them. I don’t want my walls to keep me from being open. I want to embrace the community around me…no matter where I live.