Being a Non-Anxious Presence
First, you don’t have to get rid of all your anxiety to be a non-anxious presence. (It might be an impossible goal to be anxiety-free). But since God is here we can grow in the peace that transcends all understanding. As we grow we will communicate that peace to others. Paul urges us to pray: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Anxiety can narrow our sense of ourselves and our options, while God’s presence leads us into a spacious reality -- the reality of the living God who is saving us. Relating to God on the regular will help us to grow in awareness of the really real, and we likely will find ourselves led around by the Holy Spirit more than our fear.
Beyond the commitment to develop an inner life of trust and reliance on God, here are some ways to be a non-anxious presence as a leader.
- Discern what is happening, starting with yourself. The more we can know about ourselves, the better. But my general attitude toward myself is that nothing is going to happen to me that could take me outside of God’s care. Trusting in God to take care of us and others can allow us to bear a great deal of pain, frustration, and uncertainty. We don’t have to have all the answers because Jesus is Lord. Most people take a long time to get better -- we are more like seeds than switches, in terms of spiritual growth. Being a non-anxious presence involves confidence in the Holy Spirit to do the heavy lifting. That frees us up to be present with people, to listen and ask questions. We don’t have to avoid the tension or the severity of the problem, either -- we can pray to discern what’s really going on. With Jesus going before us to bear all the pain of the world we don’t necessarily have to protect or defend ourselves from pain. We shouldn't absorb it either, like it is our own! But we can be with people in it until they choose or are able to do something different.
- Choose your response based on your hope in Christ. Anxiety causes people to act in polarized, simplistic ways. Don’t react to the anxiety by minimizing their emotion (saying calm down or relax) or getting into an argument. Go for the long haul with them instead. Leadership is more about interaction than just action. Your non-anxious, compassionate response can create space to imagine something different. Reflect back what you are hearing in what they are bringing, while hanging onto your hope that God can make all things new. The cross is ultimate transformation of all death and dying, it is judgement upon the judgement that creates fear. Jesus and his work on the cross is that perfect love that casts out fear. That’s why Paul tells the Thessalonians to “grieve, but not as one without hope.” Even a drop of hope communicated by the presence of a good listener can be like living water to someone who is deep in the struggle. God is present to our pain and offers hope of transformation; we bring that hope in our presence.
- Maintain a clear sense of direction and communicate it. Leaders hold on to a vision no matter what’s happening around them or even inside them. Our vision is Christ and the community that the Holy Spirit is making out of all of his followers. We are moving toward the re-creation of all things. So as you reflect what someone is bringing, you might be led to add what God is revealing about where this could go. Give them the hope of a more spacious place, no matter how dark or narrow their vision may be. Communicating a sense of direction can often reduce anxiety. At the same time, if you feel like you’re in over your head with someone’s problem, you might very well be. Refer them to Circle Counseling and talk to your cell leader coordinator. We have a lot of resources to help people beyond the moment. But in the moment, your non-anxious presence could give them the motivation to reach for the help they need.
It’s helpful to see ourselves and everyone else like seeds, not switches. Anxiety calls for a quick fix and we live in a time where this deeply mechanistic view is applied to people. But people still change at a rate more like plants, like Jesus talked about. Sometimes the seed has to get buried for a long time before it comes up. Then it takes even longer to bloom. Prayer is key to our mission of transformation. Placing your hope in Christ more than in people (including you own self-actualization) is a good place to start. The Holy Spirit will allow you to bring comfort and peace to troubled moments, and can empower you to stay engaged with hope when you might otherwise react, shut down, or run away. As you humbly accept the word planted in you (James 1:21) don’t be surprised if you are called upon to speak a word of vision or clarity that leads to healing. You are connected to God, so it wouldn’t be surprising.