A Non-Anxious Presence

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Yesterday I was listening to a podcast around the area of spiritual formation. In that session, a phrase was mentioned by one of the hosts, one that caught my attention. It was this: becoming a non-anxious presence.

The person was advocating that we learn how to move into our world as a non-anxious presence.

This is immensely difficult, if we are honest, and especially in light of COVID-19 these past few months. Very, very difficult. Many times, the fear we carry moves us toward anxiety. It is part of life, part and parcel to our brokenness.

What would it look like for us to be a non-anxious presence in our world – including in the challenging season we find ourselves in right now?

I have felt fear this past week. I have also been anxious at times, both with life’s general challenges (parenting, work) and due to the Coronavirus pandemic. And that anxiety wants to take the next step and move toward rage.

I try to control it. I’m a recovering control freak, which usually only leads to greater anxiety. And this hinders me from becoming an authentic, non-anxious presence.

It all sounds nice and fluffy, right? This non-anxious presence stuff.

Yes, it does.

So how do we get to that place?

I’ve found a few things that have begun to help me:

1) Be aware of the anxiety. Awareness is key. Growth cannot take place without first recognizing what is there.

2) Pause for a moment to feel the fear that has allowed for the anxiety to arise in you. How does this work? Actually take a moment and stop. This is where it gets difficult. We are hard-wired to keep moving, push it down, sweep it away, try harder, control it. I am easily drawn to each of these practices. Again, we have been trained this way in our world. So, to feel our fear and anxiety, we have to pause. But it’s in that slowing down, pausing, stopping that we take a big step toward becoming a non-anxious presence.

3) Breathe deeply and slowly. I find that when we begin to move into the “red zone,” that proverbial place where we are about to flip our lid, have a panic attack, get enraged, the practice of breathing is key to calming ourselves. And I find it helps when you are seated (as in a chair) for this practice. This slow breathing allows for our thinking brain to come back “online” so that we do not become out of control with our emotion. Remember, our emotion is not bad. Please don’t believe that. Rather, we don’t want to be out of control with that emotion. Also, it’s what we do with that emotion that can become bad – or good. Breathing deeply and slowly can help calm us and lower the level of anxiety we are experiencing. It can also help bring stillness to our racing minds.

4) Commit the fear and anxiety to God. As you slow down and breathe, offer a prayer of trust to God and ask for his help. Perhaps even open to Ps 55:22 or 1 Pet 5:7 to be your prayer. It doesn’t have to be long or overly theological. But rather from an authentic place. The words of the prayer can also be an anchor for later when we feel the anxiety showing its face again.

Those four steps have helped me learn how to be a more non-anxious presence in life.

You can stop there. However, if possible, I would consider a fifth step: If you can’t at that current moment, when you have a bit more space, consider either journaling about it or communicating with another person. The journaling process doesn’t have to be too long or overly intense. Just a paragraph or two to write down what you are feeling, why you believe you are feeling it, what you may believe God is saying in that time (through Scripture or his own non-anxious presence by the Spirit). If you connect with another trusted person (spouse, friend), someone you know who will be a non-anxious presence for you, the conversation doesn’t have to be long. Of course, in our more isolated setting of today, this could come through a text message or the traditional phone call. But the goal in this is to forge a connection of care. I find that when I share with close people in my life, they do not judge but rather are present with me in love and care.

I imagine this may all sound super-spiritual and pie in the sky. I understand. I do.

In my own cynicism at times, this seems impossible. Especially in the midst of all that we carry – and in light of all we are experiencing in quite unprecedented times as these days.

When do I have time to stop?

I don’t want to overstate it, so please hear me out. But consider that this could mean life and death for the soul. At least for me, it has at times. I am no expert at this, but I know that over the past months I have more and more desired to grow into being a non-anxious presence. These practices above have been life for me, the whole of me – heart, mind and body.

When do I have time to stop?

Perhaps right now, if even for 4 or 5 minutes. It is worth it.

Lord, teach us your ways. Teach us how to live as you, as a non-anxious presence in our world.

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