Yesterday I took all the children to the barbers. (Not that Esther needed it, of course.) As we sat waiting for our turn, the three boys figeting as though termites had entered their trousers, Sam got chatting to a man in the queue. Within a two minute conversation he had told the man where we had come from, which school he and the boys were going to and almost our entire address. I was surprised he didn’t offer the guy our spare keys. Sam is as trusting as they come.

Something in my spirit knew I had to talk to boys on the way home and introduce the concept of only telling people we KNOW and trust where we live. (I refuse to use the phrase ‘Stranger danger’ as I think that is about the most unbiblical and untrusting world view you could ever give anyone!) They all listened with wide-eyed carefulness. Trying to explain to my incredibly and wonderfully naive kids that there are people out there who would deliberately want to harm them was tricky. I got myself into a few knots. Some of their questions were along the lines of…. “Well, shouldn’t we hang round with bad people like that so that we can help them be gooder?” Their logic was touching. Their grammar was not. I am going to have to work hard to give them what every parent struggles with… the knowledge to keep them safe and the trust to keep them from fear.

As I dwelt on my dilemma, I prayed over each of them that they would start to grasp this in their own way. I also thought about how easy it is for each of us to go to the wrong people with our ‘stuff’… and then feel so let down when they don’t do what we need with it.

The very first person I ever told about some of the things that happened to me as a child told me that God was angry with me and had punished me for the sin in my life by causing someone else to harm me. Fortunately, I knew God better than they did and so dismissed their heresy immediately. But it made me think more than twice about who I listened to and who I shared the ‘real’ me with.

It was the same when I became a mum. Suddenly my world was flooded with conflicting advice. ‘Wind the baby now… put him to sleep… give him more air… don’t let him get cold… make sure he’s not hot…let him feed when he wants to… keep him rigidly to three hourly routines…’ I had to decide who I was going to listen to and who I was going to S and N at. (Smile and Nod, whilst knowing you’ll do the opposite.)

It is really vital my friend, that you choose good people to offload on. Some of you out there in the ether, currently have no-one who fulfils this role. Go to Father. Others of you have too many people to turn to and some of them are not giving you the best and wisest counsel. You are confused. Go to Father. Some of you trusted the wrong person and its come back to bite you. Go to Father.

You may well be ”cities of refuge’ that others run to when they are in trouble. You are their first port of call when things go wrong. What a privilege… but what a responsibility too! This week I was called upon to pray and speak into possibly the ‘worst’ pastoral situation I have come across to date. I am almost totally unshockable these days, but it was a tough one, even for my ears. I am so glad that I have learnt how not to dwell on other people’s burdens, otherwise it would have been an anxious all-nighter. But I prayed deeply, slept deeply and expected deeply. And boy, did God begin to heal deeply!

As I grow in maturity in my faith and the mustard seed starts to split and show the shoots of new growth, I can see how God has developed me from the potential ‘gossip’ I was (sharing things with others ‘for their prayers’) to a cul-de-sac of confidentiality. I learnt this the hard way. I let plenty of people down and had to regain both their trust and a new respect for myself. There are now many things I am told that I share with no-one except Father… and for good reason too. People know and sense they can hide in me and that I will hide that in Father.

What about you? Are you a safe harbour for your friends? Are you someone people can truly trust? Can you handle the tough stuff people go through on their own or do you buckle under the weight of their words? What if your friend told you she was having an affair, or had been declared bankrupt, or was struggling with her sexuality, or was living a double life? Could you navigate them home? What if they shared they were not actually a Christian at all, or were eloping with a friend of the same sex, or were a child abuser, or were running from the police, were a prostitute, or were stealing thousands from their company….? What then? Would your faith and your friendship stand it?

Challenging stuff isn’t it?
But you know what? Jesus was able to listen to and be around the people who everyone else labelled as hopeless disaster zones. He deliberately chose their company. Why? Because He was about freedom. As I travel through life I find that more and more people seem to need a safe place to dump the hideousness within. And I for one, don’t want to be too weak, foolish or locked into my own world to be able to help. I don’t go looking for trouble. But somehow it seems to find me. Perfectly nice people tell me their unperfect and horrid stuff. Praise GOD.

I am praying already today that God would prepare me well for the grace encounters of the next week. I suspect that there may be some lurking in the shadows. I’m getting my light ready.