I listen to too many podcasts. My problem is that I’ll hear something in a podcast, think, “Oh, that’s good. I need to think about that some more,” and then completely forget about it after an hour because I’ve already moved on to the next podcast. The other problem I have is that something will stick with me, but I have no idea where I heard it, or what the host was referring to, so I don’t know where to go to more information. Such was the case with the phrase “non-anxious presence.” The host of the podcast (Which one? I can’t remember!) said this phrase while talking about a book he had just read, but I can’t remember the name of the book. A google search brought up so many results that I can’t sort through them. So as much as I want to give credit where it’s due, and point you to some good resources, I can’t. But I thought the phrase was so good, especially in this uncharted time of crisis due to COVID-19, that I wanted to share a bit about it.
Anxiety and fear are the norm for today, and that was true even before this pandemic got us all locked inside. This anxiety and fear often manifest themselves as outrage, which we find so often on cable news and social media. Now that we’re all quarantined, we’re probably spending more time on social media or watching cable news, which perpetuates our anxieties and fears, which only leads to more outrage — you can see how this can become a vicious feedback loop. If we’re going to get through this, we need to learn to break out of the cycles of anxiety and fear. In my experience, anxiety is assuaged as much by example as by understanding. Seeing someone, whether in my life or on a screen, who is not anxious or afraid helps me to be less anxious or afraid. Conversely, I tend to freak out if the people in my life are freaking out. This is why we need examples of a “non-anxious presence,” and even more importantly, why we ourselves need to be that example for others.
A non-anxious presence is an example of peace, confidence, and courage in the midst of anxiety, fear, and chaos. The storms of life will howl and crash, but we do not have to be afraid. We do not have to be anxious. We need to see others who refuse to be anxious or give into fear because we instinctively draw courage from the courageous. In the midst of chaos, order follows courage. So how can we be a non-anxious presence for the sake of others?
Find the Rock
In the midst of a raging storm, you must have somewhere to take shelter. When I say “find the rock,” I don’t mean some little stone that you can pick up and throw impotently into the wind. I’m talking about a massive, 20 foot boulder. I’m talking about something that’s not going to get pushed around by the wind or broken apart by the lightning. The rock is that which isn’t bothered by, and doesn’t move in, the storm. Like in the best episode of television ever made, the rock is your constant. (For those of you who don’t know, I’m talking about Lost, season 4, episode 5: The Constant.) This is your rock.
It’s important to know that you can’t be your own rock. Maybe this is disappointing to you, but I find it brings incredible relief. You don’t have to be the rock, you just have to find the rock. You aren’t the rock in the storm because the rock has to be stronger than you. The rock is what takes away your fear and anxiety, therefore it cannot be you, or something inside your heart or mind. The rock is external to the self because the rock makes the self better, stronger, more courageous. What you need to overcome is bestowed upon you, not discovered by you. I’m convinced that the pressure we put on people these days to be their own rock, to be their own source of identity, strength, and courage, is unnatural, and results in only more anxiety, cowardice, and despair; but it is freeing to know that I can find the rock that I need by looking outside of myself.
Always Keep One Hand on the Rock
No matter how strong the storm is, you must always keep one hand on the rock. Stay connected to the source of your strength. The anxieties of the world do everything they can to pull you off of the rock and into their abyss, so this requires an act of will on your part. There will always be bad news, but you can’t let the bad news pull you away from the one thing that makes you courageous. This pandemic will give you every reason to be afraid. Don’t! Don’t be anxious. Don’t be afraid. Don’t let the news, social media, or other people’s anxieties make you anxious and afraid. Find the rock and stay connected to it.
It’s hard to find the rock again in the storm after you’ve let go of it. It’s hard to make that connection to our source of strength in the midst of the present chaos. Once you lose that connection, the wind and darkness of bad news, ignorant opinions, and other people’s fears will disorient you. Like a siren call, anxiety pulls you toward the depths of its own dark abyss, even against your will. This is why you need the rock that is bigger than you, outside of you! If you are your own rock, and you get pulled into anxiety, who is going to pull you out?
Staying connected to the rock will give you a sense of rootedness, which leads to confidence and courage. Being a non-anxious presence means having deep roots and strong bonds so that you don’t go blown to and fro in the storm. The confidence and courage you need are bestowed upon you, not discovered by you. All that you discover is the source of that confidence and courage — the rock that shelters, roots, and orients you in the face of the storms of chaos.
Lead Others to the Rock
Everybody already knows about the storm. Nobody needs to hear more about COVID-19. But they do need to hear more about the rock. They need to know why you are a non-anxious presence in the face of this fear. They need to hear about what gives you peace, courage, and confidence, so that they themselves can find the rock and gain all that it offers. By finding the rock, and staying connected to the rock, you can lead others to the rock. In this season of contagion, the best thing that we can pass on to others is the peace, courage, and confidence that we ourselves have already received.
As a Christian, it’s my responsibility to tell you that Jesus is the rock. I can tell you this, not just because it’s in the Bible (it literally is — 1 Corinthians 10:4), but because I’ve also experienced it for myself. The only thing that got me through the most powerful storm of my life was Jesus. Knowing that he conquered death in his resurrection has given me peace, courage, and confidence that I didn’t know were possible. I’m not afraid of COVID-19. I’m not afraid of a tanking economy, a run on banks, or food shortages. These things don’t make me anxious or afraid because I’m not afraid of death. And I’m not afraid of death because I know that Jesus awaits me on the other side, that I’ll be completely remade, and that the new creation of God will be more incredible than I can possibly imagine. Jesus is my rock. No, strike that. Jesus is THE rock. He is the rock that will shelter you in the midst of this storm. I’m connected to him, and I’m calling out to you right now. Don’t fall into the pit of anxiety. Reach out and grab hold of Jesus.