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Are you are a safe haven for the women in your life? Is the core of your heart a safe place? Can you give others the space to grow, fail, and mature? If you aren’t, how can you become that woman to others? Here are some things to consider.
1. Pay Attention to Your Tone of Voice
My fifteen-year-old daughter has made it her mission to remind me of the tone of my voice when I’m interacting with our family. Her friendly reminders usually happen when I’m multitasking, because I’m horrible at it, and my voice changes tones when I’m frustrated. “Girls! Whose turn is it to unload the dishwasher?” Suddenly, I hear a sweet voice behind me say, “Mom, try it this way.” (Imagine a soft sweet, lighthearted tone.) “Giiirls, whose turn is it to unload the dishwasher?” We all laugh at this, but she’s right. Our tone of voice can make all the difference when it comes to whether we are sending a message that says, “You can talk to me about anything and you won’t be judged or criticized or confronted.”
One young friend told me, “The second I hear my mom’s voice on the phone, the tone of her voice tells me if we are going to have a good conversation or not.”
A student once said this about a woman professor: “Her tone was so accusing when I asked her questions in class.” Later when I mentioned this to the professor in confidence, she shook her head and said, “I was just trying to move on to my lecture.” I was saddened by this response because the professor clearly had missed the point.
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The pace of our lives authorizes the tones of our voices more than we realize. As Carl Jung often said, “Hurry isn’t of the devil; it is the devil.”
There are a number of ways to remind ourselves about this. I recommend that women ask others for feedback about their tones of voice. It’s a good way to show you are vulnerable and open to suggestions. You can also stand in front of a mirror and watch yourself as you speak on the phone. You can see what you look like when you use a particular tone. It can also help to take five seconds to breathe deeply before every interaction.
2. Renew Your Thinking
Alayna, an eighth grader who is a good student and active in sports, was the recipient of an unhealthy sexting and emailing relationship with a boy from her class. When her parents found out and everyone involved gathered for a meeting, Alayna hung her head in shame, not wanting to make eye contact with the adults who expected so much of her. As the meeting began, the school nurse made eye contact with her and said, “Before anything else is said to you, I want you to know that wondering about sex is a normal teenaged thing. There’s nothing wrong with you for being curious. It’s normal for you to be flattered by a boy’s attention.” With those compassionate words, this wise woman helped Alayna drop her guard and be willing to receive proper training from the adult women in her life.
When younger women tell you things that are painful and possibly even shameful for them, what thoughts go through your mind? Are you shocked? Judgmental? Critical? Put off? Or are you compassionate and loving?
To become more compassionate, caring, and safe, you may have to renew your thinking. The younger generation needs to hear us using good sense with them when they talk with us about serious situations in their lives. They need to see that we are open-minded, not set in our natural way of seeing things. If we are living in a way that pleases God, we renew our minds by the power of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to see things anew, not from our natural perspective.
When I think of women who renew their thinking through the power of the Holy Spirit and who shelter others in their presence, I think of Dana, who applies what she’s studying in Scripture to her own life first. Because her inward thoughts are meditating on Scripture, the first words out of her mouth are good and helpful.
For instance, after Laura eloped with a young man her parents disapproved of, her family cut off all communication with her. When Dana started meeting with her, the first thing she said to her was “Laura, what’s done is done. If you need to confess anything you did wrong to God or your parents, do it. Otherwise, you need to get back to the business of living life.” She didn’t ask, “Why did you do such a foolish thing?” Nor did she criticize her parents.
You can renew your thinking in dozens of ways. For example, broaden your perspective by reading books by different authors, even ones you might disagree with. Pursue relationships with women who differ from you theologically and educationally. Renew your perspective by listening first in a situation. Withholding your opinion is a way of considering someone’s need more important than your own. As you wait to speak, you may become aware of how you stereotype others and their situations, thinking things such as That sounds like something a liberal person would say or That sounds like something an evangelical would do.
Women who take active steps to renew their minds have a much greater chance of becoming safe havens.
3. Take the Time
Adrienne, who is an administrator in a hospital, set aside a few hours on a Saturday afternoon to cook with a group of twentysomething women she had met through a gathering. She had asked them what they would like to do together, and these single professionals said they wanted to learn to cook new recipes and talk about spiritual issues.
Another woman I know takes special trips with each of her granddaughters. She chooses a week out of the year to spend with each one. She plans the trip, buys the tickets, and reserves that time just for the two of them. They eat out, visit museums, and see shows. She even took one of her granddaughters on a hot air balloon ride. On returning from one of these trips, she said to me, “My heart is full.” I’m happy for this woman, because I know how often her daughters, granddaughters, and nieces initiate contact with her. I’m convinced that the amount of time she takes to linger in their presence demonstrates to these young women that she hears and loves them.
Other women I know take the time to connect regularly with the younger women they care about via scheduled Skype or FaceTime calls. When relatives or family friends do this, my daughters look forward to the call if it’s scheduled in advance. As Annie Dillard said about time, “A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.”
4. Avoid Fragmentation and Superficiality
The enemy wants our most intimate thoughts for himself, and so he tries to keep women from being close to one another. I believe he uses two things to thwart closeness and to keep us from being safe havens for one another: fragmentation and superficiality.
Fragmentation: We give away little pieces of ourselves all day long. Our minds are always on the next thing or on what we just finished, keeping us from focusing on what is in front of us.
When our lives are fragmented, we often lose our sense of joy and our sense of purpose. That’s the case for a pastor friend who shared with me how her greatest regret in the last decade is being too busy. “I don’t regret pursuing my job, but I regret the busyness, and I don’t know how to stop.” Even though she wants to be close to the women in her life, she’s starting to recognize that busyness is sending the opposite message to others: Don’t pursue me or you might just take more from me. When our lives are busy and fragmented, we can’t shelter others with our presence. We keep people standing on the perimeter of our lives, fearful that if they break one more piece off us, our entire worlds will shatter.
When I’m fragmented, I resist spending one-on-one and face-to-face time with people. I withdraw, hoping I can regroup on my own. The antidote to fragmentation is opening up and having deep conversations in the midst of feeling chaotic.
When my daughters announce that they are going to try a new sport or join another club or youth group, I often talk with them about what would happen if they were to say yes to everything. They would feel frazzled and tired, not to mention that I couldn’t possibly drive them everywhere they would want to be! With each new opportunity, we decide together if saying yes to something will cause one of our lives to become fragmented. I want my girls to know that life-giving conversations with them matter to me and I don’t want to sacrifice those important talks.
When asked to do something for someone, these are good questions to ask yourself: Do I want to say yes out of greed? Am I afraid of missing out on what others have?
Busyness isn’t the only thing that leads to fragmentation—so do neglecting God’s purposes, not recognizing where you are in God’s timetable, forgetting what God has given you, and not spending enough time having life-giving conversations with the women closest to you. Deeper conversations remind us about our true purpose and the unique strengths God has given us and, therefore, satisfy any desires we may have for wanting more than we already have.
Superficiality: Superficiality is relating to only the surface. It’s a concern with only the obvious or the apparent, not the profound or thorough; it implies a lack of depth. It is a neglect of details through haste or indifference. One author described the American church as superficial by saying that we are “a mile wide and an inch deep.”
Social media doesn’t mitigate this culture of superficiality. For example, we can post photos where we look our best or delete comments we don’t like. Nor is social media a safe place where women can share and be vulnerable. In fact, studies show women who have a prolonged usage of Facebook are more affected than men when it comes to their self-esteems.* One friend who recently lost a loved one told me she doesn’t understand why women will write thoughtful messages on her Facebook page but never talk about her loss when she sees them in person. “What’s wrong with asking me to my face how I’m doing and waiting for me to answer? I get the impression most women don’t want to hear what I might say.”
To initiate deeper conversations with women, start remembering details they tell you or post online and ask them specific questions the next time you are together. Ask about personal things, but also ask about their work and skills and how Jesus is leading them. Ask what they believe their strengths are. What are the skills God equipped them with, and how do those skills impact their present or future work?
Recently, I posed that question to a small group of twenty four-year-old women, and each one said she hadn’t thought about it before. Our conversation went beyond the surface as we stayed on that topic for more than an hour. It was satisfying to stay focused, to go deeper, and hear them think aloud about how their God-given skills are helping them to discover their work and, ultimately, who they are.
5. Embrace These Five Life-Giving Patterns
I am convinced we can become more like Christ and influence the next generation, but in order to do so, we must first receive and embrace five life-giving patterns that are found in Psalm 119:73–80:
Your hands made me and formed me;
give me understanding to learn your commands.
May those who fear you rejoice when they see me,
for I have put my hope in your word.
I know, O LORD, that your laws are righteous,
and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
May your unfailing love be my comfort,
according to your promise to your servant.
Let your compassion come to me that I may live,
for your law is my delight.
May the arrogant be put to shame for
wronging me without cause;
but I will meditate on your precepts.
May those who fear you turn to me,
those who understand your statutes.
May my heart be blameless toward your decrees,
that I may not be put to shame.
The five patterns are as follows: learning to deal with suffering, giving healing comfort, acting with understanding, knowing full forgiveness, and relating with compassion. Like a solitary diamond flanked by five smaller ones on a ring, God’s steadfast love is set in the center of these patterns. Can we practice them until they become the very fabric of our beings? I think we can, as long as we accept that we won’t be perfect. I’m so thankful I said yes to this journey, as the patterns have not only transformed my relationships but also healed my heart in the process.
Jesus personified these patterns that day when he washed his disciples’ feet. When we live out these patterns, we, as he did, will make relationships a priority. Will you join me in seeking to become a safe haven so that we can be an extension of the church for this next generation?
Jesus was able to sit at a table with both his beloved and his betrayer because he knew where he came from and where he was going. As the Son of God, he knew his purpose in suffering; he was determined to comfort the ones he loved and to show compassion to those who hurt. he understood that his disciples related to him and one another out of pride, which resulted in a competitive spirit, and he knew we would struggle with that too. Take some time and pay attention to the women around you. Don’t you sense that women are longing to stay connected and to have more satisfying relationships? I believe we can’t meet those needs in our flesh. We need these patterns to show our best love, the full extent of a divine love.
Pam Havey Lau is the author of Soul Strength and numerous articles for Fullfill magazine and Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics. She teaches communications at George Fox University. Her latest book release is A Friend in Me: How to be A Safe Haven for Other Women. Visit www.pamelalau.com to learn more about Lau.
Publication date: July 21, 2015