When I first read the John Powell quote above it struck a chord deep within me. I had recently experienced the pain of having something personal revealed by another. In my situation I felt betrayed. I had stepped out of my comfort zone to be vulnerable with a friend, but what I thought was sacred, they didn't. Because they didn't feel it was sacred, they didn't think they had to keep it private, and so, they didn't. It broke my heart when I found out, and our relationship suffered for it, as I found it very difficult to trust them and didn't want to open up to them again.
An emotionally safe person is someone who takes seriously the responsibility of keeping private another's intimate thoughts, struggles and stories. They are mature and grounded in God, as their ultimate goal is to refer the person to God's care for total healing and restoration. What is shared with them is not to become a burden they are forced to carry, rather they become a conduit for God's love and grace by just listening, asking questions, gently pointing the person who is sharing with them to God.
The emotionally safe person recognizes that they cannot be the Saviour. In fact, they must avoid the attempt to rescue those with whom they are journeying otherwise they will feel overwhelmed and burn out, as they are trying to take on God's role. Rather, they must be willing to be vulnerable themselves, as vulnerability begets vulnerability, and true partnerships and growth can happen when we share our own struggles, and become sojourners. When you meet an emotionally safe person you will know - they are naturally a soft landing place, and you will be able to trust them fully.
As deacons, and church leaders, we are often given the privilege of being with people when they are at their most vulnerable. We need to be emotionally safe people. With this as our reality, we need to be wise about the words we speak, not only to the person, but also later - when we are reporting, praying or in casual conversations.
Reporting: It's common at meetings to mention that you have gone on a visit, and with whom you have met. This is actually useful because it ensures that individuals who need care or assistance are not being overlooked. What you do not need to mention is the full content of your visit or conversation, unless you have previously asked the person if it would be alright for you to share it with others. You need to be wise about how much information is shared, and discern what is appropriate. Think about why you are sharing certain information - what purpose does it fulfill, what are you hoping the end result will be?
Praying: It's an unfortunate reality, and example of our human sinfulness, that prayer groups can become gossip groups. "Please pray for Mary who told me the other day that she was thinking about separating from Tom", "Please pray for Jim as he's struggling with depression". Praying for the specific concerns of those you visit is absolutely important, however, you must be careful about what details you share when praying as a group. God knows what the person's needs are and if you feel compelled to bring someone's name forward for prayer, you can be vague. "Mary and Tom have been on my heart", "I'd like to pray for Jim today". You should never feel pressured to share the details about why these are your prayer requests, and if someone does ask it is perfectly fine to not answer their question! Don't feed the gossip prayer circle! It is always best to ask the person if it would be okay for you to share their need at prayer, or if you can mention what they shared. Never assume that you have leeway or permission, you may be causing them harm, or making them feel violated. Sometimes it's best not to mention names at all, but rather pray for the broader issue: "those who struggle with their marriages", or "those struggling with depression".
Casual Conversations: When someone has shared something with you that is not meant for other conversations you must be viligent in keeping your mouth closed. As conversations ebb and flow it is almost inevitable that a story will trigger you to think about a person you have visited. Do not be tempted to say more than you ought. For some folks, even the fact that you have visited is a personal matter that they'd rather not have shared. If you find youself starting to say something you aren't sure should be mentioned - STOP! Don't question it aloud with the person you are talking with "I'm sure Betty wouldn't mind me saying this". If you doubt, don't speak. And if the person you are chatting with pushes it, simply say "I misspoke, I don't want to say any more".
I encourage you as a deacon team to hold one another accountable to being emotionally safe people. People are longing to be known and loved deeply, as they are - and we can do that simply by being present, listening for God's voice, waiting on him as we journey with his children.
How does your deacon team share about sensitive visits with those who need care?