Do people feel relationally safe in your home? Your church? Your business?

Is it the place they long to come to when the problems of the world seem overwhelming? Is it a haven of understanding, acceptance, and security?

It can be.

By God’s grace, your home, church, or business can be like the classroom that Erin Gruwell formed in a racially splintered high school in southern California.

Erin was an idealistic young English teacher who started her career at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach in 1993. The school had recently been integrated, bringing together teenagers from diverse racial groups, many of whom were openly hostile toward one another and toward Erin.

She was given a group of students known as the “unteachables.” Most of them came from broken families. Some were homeless. They had little interest in learning and no hope of graduation, much less college. They had simply been passed along by other teachers to get them out of their classrooms.

Though a complete novice as a teacher, Erin had incredible relational skills. She instinctively knew how to win the hearts of her students. She deflected their insults, challenged their assumptions, pulled down their walls, and inspired them to believe that they could accomplish far more than they had ever dreamed.

But most of all, Erin developed a sense of safety, security, and acceptance in her classroom, a place of genuine relationship.

Here is a short video clip that illustrates her relational achievement. It’s taken from a movie entitled The Freedom Writers, which is based on a book Erin wrote. The scene takes place at the beginning of her second year of teaching, when Erin (played by Hilary Swank) held a reception for her students as they returned to school in the fall (if video screen does not appear below, click here).

“I walk into the room and feel as though all the problems in life are not so important any more. I am home.”

Isn’t this what people should say about our homes? About our churches? About businesses that are owned or managed by Christians?

Let’s pray that God would give each of us the same grace he gave to Erin Gruwell twenty years ago. Grace to really care about others. Grace to be kind, gentle, and patient, even with those who are irritating, defying, or attacking us. Grace to put to death our inclination to criticize and judge, and to put on the very character of God through a spirit of compassion, mercy, and forgiveness (Exod. 34:6-7).

In short, grace to live out Romans 15:7 so consistently (“Accept one another then, just as Christ has accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”) that others would always feel safely “at home” whenever they are near to us.

– Ken Sande

Reflection Questions

  • When problems are pressing in on you, where do you long to go in order to feel safe, understood, accepted and supported? Chances are its not a particular building , but rather its with a particular person or group of people.
  • Why do you feel safe and “at home” with them? What qualities do they have? How do they treat you?
  • Where do you feel the least safe when you’ve got major struggles? What makes you feel that way?
  • Now as you reflect on the answers to these questions, what qualities and relational habits do you want to ask God to help you to put off and put on so that people would feel they are “at home” (safe, understood, accepted) when they are near you?
  • A word to church leaders: far too many Christians say the place they feel least safe and accepted, especially when they are struggling with sin, is in their own churches because they feel they will be judged and marginalized. How can you set an example for your congregation that would make your church as safe and comforting a place as Erin Gruwell’s classroom was?

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

© 2014 Ken Sande

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