On Choosing More than Safe


“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” 

– Abraham Maslow

When I learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs way back in first year Psychology classes, I had no idea that it would be one of those pieces of information I’d retain over two decades. In a very paraphrased way, here’s my understanding & memory of it: First, we make sure that our daily physiological needs are met – food, water, shelter, clothing. Done. Then, we make sure we’re safe – that stability and security needs are met. After that, we can build relationships, grow in confidence, take risks and be creative. It’s a trajectory, a process of building, in which we grow in flourish. (hopefully I didn’t butcher poor old Abe’s Hierarchy)

The more years I’m adding to my life, the safer I’ve become, in both good ways and bad. In good ways, I’m learning how to keep confidences better, how to extend grace where I haven’t in the past, how to set up boundaries and how to open my life and heart. I’ve also learned to shrink back when something may possibly be unsafe, and to neglect wise risk-taking in the name of staying safe, without even knowing that I’m doing so.

As we’ve set up our life in this small town, and shifted activities from work routines of travel and dress-up event attendance to kitchen-counter spontaneous parties and reliable work hours, I’ve settled in and found a very safe space. Life has held some significant instabilities, changes and challenges for us, so we needed to build that safe, secure place and find ways to belong and grow in relationships in our community, in our neighbourhood, and as a family. It’s been really good, and I’m grateful for it.

My challenge really has been in choosing to launch from that safe space and those relationships, instead of using safety as a cover to prevent me from requiring courage.

Tell me that makes sense to someone other than me?

Home should be safe. And you know, I’ve said it is where we should be seen, and secure. But I do believe that we build our homes as places where we are safe, seen and secure so that we can grow and stretch and try new things, rather than stay in a permanent cocoon, preventing our growth.

There are seasons for all things, it turns out. (You’d think I would have caught on earlier, right?)

In this season, as leaves change colour, I’m starting to come out of the cocoon I’ve built (whether anyone thinks I’ve been in one or not), bit by bit and enjoying the stretch. Turns out, our souls need to grow forward and overcome fear that would make us shrink back, as much as we need safety. We need friends and people around us who encourage us in that growth, nudging or prodding us to move forward. There have been some good women around me over the past months who have challenged me to try new things, take new risks, and show up in new ways. (I think Maslow would stick this in the “Esteem” category.) I needed their encouragement, honestly, because even though it is good and necessary for launching, safe can become a stuck place – an altar on which we sacrifice the best.

It’s in choosing to grow, moving from that place of safety and security, that I’m able to dream again. To create new things. To build on new ideas. As tempting as it is to stay safe when I consider whether these new things might fail, Maslow has a wise word for me: growth is a choice. Courage is a choice. And, because I need more wisdom than I already hold in my heart and mind, I’m trusting the safety and wildness and courage of the God I love.

It’s not throwing out those things that I’ve learned in leaning into the safe spaces, it’s a building on them and growing from them. It’s the best way to open up those kitchen counter parties to new experiences, new joys, new challenges, new encouragement and new friends.