When Someone Else Is Spinning
One of the many things I sometimes struggle with is the art of being a "non-anxious presence" when dealing with difficult people or challenging circumstances.
The phrase "non-anxious presence" is one that I was introduced to in seminary during a class on Pastoral Care, and it has cropped up repeatedly throughout my career in ministry.
The idea behind it is pretty simple: When you are anxious in a situation where others are anxious, you don't allow yourself to rise to the same level of anxiety, enabling you to see things more clearly and respond appropriately.
This is easier said than done.
Trust me, I have had more than a few moments over the past twenty-odd years of ministry when I have unequivocally not been a "non-anxious presence."
When someone else's drama lands on our doorstep, the easiest thing to do is to let it in and get caught up in it with them. Our thoughts can start spinning in unhealthy ways, and we soon feel anxious.
More often than not, we see ourselves in the other. We might be triggered by something they shared, or the situation feels familiar, and, try as we might, we can't help ourselves by diving further into anxiety with them.
But when we practice detachment in those moments and internalize the truth that we are not responsible for the feelings, actions, or words of others, we become the kind of presence they might actually need.
And further, when we actively turn those anxious moments with others over to God, we find the freedom to love and to feel peace even when everything/everyone around us is spinning out of control.
Author Catherine Chapman puts it like this:
We become more open to new ways of doing things as we allow God to love us and teach us how to give and receive love. We also begin to accept people and situations as they are. ... We will discover, as our detachment and acceptance deepens, that we have more emotional energy to spend on ourselves and the activities we would like to do.
So if you find yourself juggling the drama of some of the anxious people in your life, spend some time today reminding yourself that the one person in that relationship you have some actual influence over is, first and foremost, you.
You don't have to get on the emotional merry-go-round with them.
And from a non-anxious space off the merry-go-round, you might be able to help them slow it to a stop.
May this be so for you and me, and all of us. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.