Peaceful Presence

Written by Daron Brown
From his column Pressing On

“Now is the Age of Anxiety” proclaimed W.H. Auden in his 1948 Pulitzer-winning poem.[1] In it, Auden represents “anxiety” in a general, nonclinical sense, as humanity’s restlessness, quest for meaning, and pervasive isolation in a disordered world. Nearly a century later, his message echoes: we, too, live in an age of anxiety.

The prolonged pandemic has had far-reaching effects. People feel the brunt relationally, financially, emotionally, and otherwise. For many, life was hard enough before. Now, anxiety is heightened—contributing to all types of dysfunctional and detrimental behaviors. Examples abound of those who have not responded well. Anxiety is thick in this age.

Church folks are not immune. Anxiety affects us as well. Many Christians have remained unruffled, but some have suffered under its weight.

Edwin H. Friedman coined the phrase “non-anxious presence”[2] to describe the role of a counselor or clergyperson in relation to a family or congregation. Being a non-anxious presence requires the ability to self-regulate during stressful times. Instead of getting caught up in the frenzy, the counselor sets the tone for a calm environment that decreases anxiety instead of contributing to it. There are times when we as pastors remind ourselves to “cool down” to create better conditions for healthy systems.

The Body of Christ should be a non-anxious presence in an age of anxiety.

What is true for counselors and clergy is also true for the whole church. The Body of Christ should be a non-anxious presence in an age of anxiety. Instead of ratcheting-up the fear, we should bring the calm. We are called to set a better tone for this angst-ridden world.

What we bring is more than the absence of anxiousness. We offer the promise of abundant peace. After His resurrection, the first word from Jesus to His followers was “Peace.” The church, then, is a community of peace. Churches pass the peace of Christ to one another on Sunday mornings. This practice reminds us that peace is not simply inner or private. Rather, peace is outward and public. Biblical peace is relational wholeness that permeates relationships and extends beyond us. Biblical peace is anchored in the resurrection of Jesus. Because Jesus was raised, there is peace.

For the church to live as a non-anxious, peace-bringing presence in an age of anxiety, four things are needed:

1. Be Present.
The church belongs in the world. Incarnation is the way of Jesus. Detaching from the world is not an option. Being present is less about property or programs than it is about relationships.

2. Know Your Story.
Friedman describes this as differentiation. When we do not know who we are, we become more like those around us. We adapt to their stories. This happened to Israel and to the church plenty of times. Knowing the gospel story allows us to maintain our peace-identity as we are interact in an anxious world.

3. Be What Is Lacking.
Counselors know that simply being a non-anxious presence can do more to bring resolution than dispensing advice. We often agonize over what to do. Certainly, there are times for doing. But maybe more important is being. For those around us, we should be the peaceful presence they need. Provide the contrast. Set the example.

4. Peace Is “One Another” Work.
Christians do not work at peace alone. Because peace is relational wholeness, it is something we practice together. We need one another to provide example, encouragement, and accountability.

A thermometer reading rises and falls with the temperature. A thermostat drives the temperature. The church has a choice. We can be a thermometer, allowing our response to rise and fall with the anxiety of the surrounding culture, or we can be a thermostat, setting a steady tone for what should be. These days, as difficult as they may be, offer us an incredible opportunity to bring God’s peace to an anxious age.

May the peace of Christ be with you!

Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee.

[1] Auden, W.H. (1947) The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Epologue, Princeton, NJ: Princeton Press
[2] Friedman, Edwin H. (1985) Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue, New York, NY: Guilford Press