I read recently that we are living in the “Age of Anxiety.” The writer of the article cited the research that anxiety rates are higher than they have ever been, even higher than during WWII and the Great Depression. This increase in anxiousness can be attributed to cultural shifts, attitudes about work and play, social media and growing complaints regarding the complexities of human problems.
Stress is a part of life. There are good stressors in our lives including job changes, starting a family or buying a house. Negative stressors might include the death of a loved one, difficulty in the work place, family conflict or medical challenges. Stress, however, becomes anxiety when worry, nervousness, unease, dread, agitation and irritability become commonplace. Anxiety goes beyond being “stressed out” or working through a difficult life season. Anxiety often begins to manifest itself in physical ways. One quarter of Americans speak of experiencing chronic headaches, fatigue, “being on edge” or having difficulty sleeping. All these are symptoms of anxiety.
When I was in college, a personal friend and pastor once said to me, “Work hard and play hard.” I find myself asking the question 32 years later, “Why does everything have to be hard? Does that make it better?" I don’t know about you, but it’s difficult to maintain that level of intensity all the time. Sometimes a good dose of grace and “trying softer” can help us along the way.
I read an article recently that spoke of a popular art exhibit featured in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. An artist by the name of Marina Abramovic offered a performance installation called “The Artist is Present.” The performance was simply Marina in an empty room, sitting at a table with two chairs across from each another. Museum patrons lined up for hours for the opportunity to sit across from her in silence. As each person sat with Marina, they said nothing, but rather existed together in silence and looked each other in the eye. Many who sat with her were overcome with emotion and cried. The meaningful uninterrupted connection seemed to bless participants deeply. Marina provided a much-needed non-anxious presence in this modern world of anxiety.
Edwin Friedman, a Jewish rabbi and family therapist, coined the well-known term, “non-anxious presence.” The term describes a person’s ability to provide a confident, calm, poised focus that leaves others with a relaxed energy. I think people in the world today, including myself, need a non-anxious presence in their lives. We need the peace of the indwelling Christ who told his followers, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you … Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about the presence of fear in humanity. She offers the helpful illustration that fear doesn’t get to be the driver of the car, but that it can sit in the back seat. She reminds readers that stress isn’t to be the driver of our lives, but we can acknowledge that we do take it for a drive.
Many businesses, non-profits and religious organizations are striving to live out their mission and purpose in a changing culture. Similarly, the greater United Methodist Church is a system that is anxious about its future. What lies before us is unknown as we approach the 2019 General Conference. Your leadership team, including the Administrative Council, your pastors and staff, seek to keep the church informed as we move forward. In times like these, I seek to embrace a non-anxious presence as we make necessary decisions affecting Marvin. We have a great church with a tremendous legacy of ministry in Tyler. I commit to doing all that I can to help our church continue its faithful Kingdom work. I ask for your prayers for myself and our leaders.
As we enter November, I look forward to sharing with you a meaningful Inspire Conference as Bishop Jones comes to Marvin Nov. 10 and 11. I also look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with both my church family and my extended family.