Something I have been thinking about a lot this year is how to be what rabbi and psychologist Edwin Friedman called a “non-anxious presence”. Friedman observed that tight-knit communities like families and churches often had such complex networks of relationships and emotional histories that addressing one relational issue was often difficult because of all the other issues that came attached to it. In such situations, according to Friedman, what is needed is a “non-anxious presence”, someone who can support others in their anxiety without becoming anxious themselves. While I often see the need to be that person myself, the practical question of how to do it remains hard to answer. Simply pretending to be a calm blue ocean when in fact I’m an underwater volcano hardly seems the answer. And while I might manage to be a non-anxious presence at work or in pastoral relationships, my own family then do not exactly receive my best non-anxious self when I come home. Tonight while putting my boys to sleep, holding two of them by the hand and the third cuddled in the crook of my arm, I found myself expressing in my own body the tension of being pulled and stretched in more directions than easily seems possible. At such a time, what do we do?
Tonight I was drawn in my mind to an image from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians when he describes how Jesus’ own body created transformative peace. Speaking specifically of how Jesus brought together opposing ethnic groups, the picture Paul gives is nonetheless a wonderful image of Jesus stretching out on the Cross to bring together oppositions and tensions, resolving them in the perfect peace he was accomplishing:
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:14-16)
The truth is, I can only be a “non-anxious presence” when I bring my anxieties and all the tensions of my being to the Cross where perfect peace is made. I cannot be a calm blue ocean but I can cast my anxieties into the sea of grace. And I cannot reconcile tensions or bring perfect peace to others in my body, but I can pray that I might have the grace to embody Jesus’ peace in the life I live towards others.
Praying for the day that this is so.