It was so wonderful to be there, safe at home, sheltered from the winds and the cold. Laura thought that this must be a little like heaven, where the weary are at rest.
— Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Long Winter
I haven’t studied German since 10th grade, but I recently came across a German word that caught my attention. Geborgenheit. It can be described as “the sum of warmth, protection, security, trust, love, peace, closeness and comfort.” (germanyinusa.com) Alas, there really is no adequate English equivalent. But isn’t it a perfect description of the desire of every human heart?
In recent years, I’ve noticed an increase in people expressing that they feel “unsafe” in what seem to be relatively commonplace situations. It may be a political conversation between friends or colleagues, a challenging church sermon, or a professor sharing a divergent perspective.
Sometimes the feeling is less about a particular situation and more about a general state of being, feeling unsafe in our own home or even in our own skin. Certainly, there are many things that can make us feel “unsafe” these days. Everything from violence to viruses can make us cautious, and sometimes outright fearful. Some of these things may actually threaten our physical well-being, while others may cause severe emotional distress.
People who have experienced trauma can be easily triggered by circumstances around them while also struggling to understand what is going on within them. In his book The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk says, “Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.”
My husband and I have ministered to many people who experience this type of torment. To be sure, God hasn’t left these people, but it can be extremely difficult for them to experience his loving presence. Having dealt with an anxiety disorder myself, I know that discerning God’s voice when your mind is stuck on overdrive can feel impossible.
Let me share one thing I believe with all my heart. Trauma leaves us shattered, but Love makes us whole.
Neurotheologian Jim Wilder observes, “We tend to spend a lot of energy focusing on resolving traumas in the hope that we will be free from the pain trauma brings. What we often miss or overlook is the power of building memories of God’s goodness that give us a sense of being loved.”
As we work to resolve our trauma, it is important to allow God to work within the space where trauma once ruled. You see, we all need to know we are loved. Without that assurance, we can’t function the way we were designed. Our operating system breaks down. But Love gives us a whole new operating system with an eternal guarantee.
The one and only safety in the universe, is the perfect nearness of the Living One!
— George MacDonald
We live in a broken world in an uncertain time. We can’t fix that. But we can allow God’s loving-kindness to possess our hearts—to give us the safety of an eternal home, a place of intimate belonging.
In the truest sense, God is a father. He is the perfect Father. But let us not forget that we are made in his image—male and female. God is neither male nor female, but both male and female were created to reflect his likeness. As such, it can be said that God mothers his children as well as fathers them. What do I mean by that? God is a comforter and a nurturer. He provides safety and security, just as a mother does for her baby.
Turning back to that lovely German word, I am reminded that God alone offers perfect Geborgenheit—warmth, protection, security, trust, love, peace, closeness and comfort.
But sometimes our wounded hearts lash out at things that could provide a needed sense of security. Perhaps we even approach the mere idea of safety with cynicism. Why? Because we know the world can be dangerous, but we’ve also lost our ability to trust in God’s goodness. Our damaged hearts deceive us, telling us there’s no comfort to be found—or perhaps that we don’t deserve comfort. Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:37 remind me of our human propensity to turn away from the things we need most.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
How often have I refused to be comforted by the One who is comfort? More times than I’m able to count. But it’s never too late to step into his arms and find rest. He is patient, and he never turns away.
Let me leave you with a bit of comfort from the Psalms…
In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:8)
Let God wrap his loving-kindness around you. Be assured that you are his beloved child. May you be blessed to step into the knowledge of his goodness, experiencing the comfort and rest he has for you in this present moment. You are loved!