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Good, Not Safe: A Paradox of the Christian Life

I want to give you a glimpse into the interior life I have started to experience since beginning the Metanoia Catholic Academy.

The theme of “safety” has come up a lot in my journaling over the last year. Usually it comes out as the phrase, “I’m not okay,” or, “I won’t be okay.” It took me a while to be able to even define what “okay” meant to me, but I now understand it to be emotional safety. To feel seen, known and loved.

I have come to learn that God speaks to us all differently, and I believe that He often speaks to me in breadcrumbs – a little something here, a half-thought there, and an image over there. I often get to play with these things in my mind, noticing themes, but not putting things fully together. Every once in a while though, this amazing connection happens that is so clear and so air tight that I know it is God.

I mentioned the theme of “safety.” One of the first thoughts I uncovered while doing EMDR work with a therapist was the phrase, “I’m not safe with me.” This wowed me. Talk about having a cracked foundation! This was one of the first breadcrumbs that I noticed along this theme.

A second breadcrumb I gathered was a quote which is often shared on the Abiding Together Podcast from the book,The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When Susan asks Mr. Beaver if Aslan the lion is safe, he responds,

“Safe?… ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

I’ve heard the ladies of Abiding Together say it many times, and it always caught my ear. This paradoxical description of the Christ character of Aslan. I liked it. There seemed to be truth there, but I also didn’t quite understand it. Then, one day, I realized the association I was making that had been confounding my understanding of this description. I equated “safety” with “goodness.” Truth be told, I had unknowingly made emotional safety, being seen, known and loved by those I desired to see, know and love me, an idol. I mistook it for my greatest good.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a good to have that security, but ultimately I had to look at where I was going in my thoughts and actions when focusing on not receiving what I desired. It wasn’t pretty: anger, passive aggressive behavior, resentment, and bitterness. Vice. Like we’re challenged to ask ourselves in Exercise 5 of the Metanoia Catholic Journal, “Am I moving toward God or away from God?”I could see without a shadow of a doubt that I was moving away from God.

It was sometime after uncovering this unprettiness that Erin and Matt interviewed Fr. Gregory Pine, O.P. on the topic of virtue on their Catholic Coaching Podcast. In describing the virtue of fortitude, Fr. Pine describes the courageous person as one who “knows there is a thing to be done…and yet while mindful of the fact that I am scared, I need to do the job.” He later describes the capacity to honor and maintain the balance of these two tensions as having “levity of spirit,” which, in the Christian mind, comes from the understanding that, in a way, through Baptism, we have already died to this world, therefore, nothing can be taken from us. As he so plainly puts it, “You’ve put off the old man and breathe deeply a new and resurrected life. So what can the world take from you? It can’t take anything from you. You’re already dead!”

It’s a bit abrupt, but I marveled a little at its depth.

What if you have nothing to lose? What if emotional pain is simply something that is? I see it. I notice it. I acknowledge it. I attend to it. But then that’s it.

It is this detachment from other lesser goods of this world, aka, anything that does not draw us to God, which allows one to boldly pursue greatness in the face of danger.  Fr. Pine mentions that this is done in the face of fear, not the absence of fear.

To me, fear and danger implied a lack of safety and lack of safety = bad. But does it? Look at the martyrs. They were not “safe” marching off to their mortal end, but they were full of joy. Talk about a paradox! If Christ is good, but not safe, and fortitude implies action in the face of danger, then is it necessarily bad to feel that emotional insecurity?

I had to wrestle with the Lord on this one, and that’s where Exercise 7 of the Metanoia Catholic Journal entered in for me. Upon reflecting with Him on the thought, “I am not safe,” under which lies the implication that to not feel safe is a bad thing and that “I should feel safe at all times,” it dawned on me how unrealistic this expectation was. The idea that in order to be “okay” I must feel safe, makes me a victim to my circumstances at every moment. “Am I safe now? Or now?? Or now???” This is not freedom.

The fact that safety can never be guaranteed is a fact of life, but it is one quite hard to accept without a bedrock to stand on that lets you know you are “okay” no matter what. That bedrock has become my faith, my identity in Christ, and yet, I still forget and get caught up in it all. I didn’t realize this attachment I had to emotional security until I noticed my behaviors in its absence come up in my journaling.

The final breadcrumb on this journey was a screensaver on one of the hospital TVs at work. A scripture passage from Psalm 18:32, “God who arms me with strength, And makes my way perfect.” I passed it several times before I noticed I was reading it wrong, but I think that was God’s way of speaking to me as it gave me immense solace. I read it as,

“God’s arms are my strength.”

So I’d like to invite you into a moment of my interior life. The following journal entry was my Exercise 7 on this topic of emotional safety. It incorporates much of what I included above. This is what came to me. Read it as if it is God speaking to me.

“You have already died to this world. You have only to gain if you are put in any peril. You get to trust fall on Me. You get to be with ME. Nothing can harm you, but only serve to strengthen you.  This is what I have been trying to tell you – your purpose for the pain is not to suffer and hurt. I did all that, it is not the plan I have for you. Your heaven is to start here on Earth…The purpose for the pain, the struggle is meant as an opportunity to know my strength. Your strength lies in My arms. The more freely you fall, the more vast will be your experience of my power and you will know the elation of a soul resting in my arms. On this side of heaven, that is the closest place you can be to dwelling within the Trinity…The more freely you fall, the more securely you rest in My arms.”

In a nutshell, this has been my inspiration to enter the Purgative Way program and begin coaching. I want to help people find God in their mess and see it as their means to holiness. I hope to do for others what the Metanoia Catholic Academy and the Metanoia Catholic Journal has done for me – given me the keys to unlock the door toward Interior Freedom.