Last week, I facilitated a retreat session for eleven young adults who are spending a year of volunteer service in Detroit. They live in community and work at a variety of nonprofit organizations.
Their orientation in August introduced them to the concept of brave spaces as opposed to safe spaces.
I think most people commit to a year of service because they want to be a catalyst for change. They believe they can help people who are marginalized or change systems that have become corrupt.
It can be daunting to speak of our convictions on behalf of people who have no voice, especially when we are speaking to those who claim to have the same vision as we do. This often happens in large institutions where upholding rules and regulations can take precedence over individual needs, but it can happen anywhere.
People tend to habituate to their environment; a new person with a fresh perspective can shake things up—which can be seen as a threat to people who are comfortable in their certainty that they are already doing a good job.
Courage is needed to step into these situations, and these volunteers will be called upon to step out of their comfort zones to speak truth to power.
Unlike the nonprofits which are already established, however, living in community is different because they are creating it as they go. By its very nature, community living can be intense, and being able to state our own needs while being sensitive to the needs of others can be a challenge.
I invited the volunteers to recall one of those challenging moments in community as a starting place for their reflection.
Living in community offers many opportunities for self-reflection. Other community members are wonderful mirrors, offering insights we may not have seen before.
When I lived in l’Arche, I would say that I met myself every day—and it was ugly. What I saw reflected back to me was my worst self. I saw my fears and insecurities, my need to control and my need to be right. I saw how petty and judgmental I could be.
And when I saw these things, I became defensive, because this safe space was all I knew.
But God was inviting me to let go of my false self and discover who I was meant to be.
I needed to step out of my safe space where I had convinced myself that I had control and could manage my life on my own, and into that brave space where I faced my fears and insecurities. It was painful to truly see myself and to accept that reality. I had to be open and vulnerable every day so God could heal me.
I invited these volunteers to look at their interior safe spaces to see where they need courage to step up and speak truth to themselves, because standing in that brave space is perhaps the change that will make the biggest difference in their lives.