Jim, Kim, Royce and My Trip Down Anxiety Lane
When this blog for Southeastern Church’s leaders began, the original vision as I understood it was for us to share what was going on in our lives spiritually. God must have known that this week was my turn to write because three people unwittingly and unintentionally conspired to call my attention to something in my walk with God that needed immediate remediation.
Tuesday morning of this week, Royce McDougall came into my office and told me that he was ready to cast his lot with Christ and be baptized. Absolutely wonderful news! So many people had been praying and working toward that moment for so long. Not the least was Donna, of course, but also, especially, Keith Stillinger. Later that day, the time was set for 6:30 for family and friends to gather to share in this moment of great joy.
At 6:00, I went up front to open up a door or two and to make a final check of the baptistery. That’s when I saw Kim and Morganne West in the auditorium setting up for a training session Kim was to lead for 40-50 people. In the auditorium. At 6:30. In the auditorium (because she needed audio-visual capabilities for the training presentation). In the auditorium (which is the only place from which a family-and-friends sized group can witness a baptism). In the auditorium at 6:30 (the same time the family-and-friends group was to be in the same place for a long-awaited baptism).
I just about froze up as thoughts started racing through my mind—I can’t believe this is happening! Did I mess this up? What am I going to do? I’m not going to ask Royce to wait; this needs to be such a special moment. If Kim’s reserved the space, I sure can’t kick her out, which would make a really good impression on the folks from outside our church family she would be working with (“Yeah, Kim’s preacher kicked us out…”). I really was trying to think fast but my thoughts were coming in almost random, disassociated spurts. I finally hacked my way through the fog just enough to realize that if I could find an alternative spot for Kim’s event… (We have no readily-available alternative spot for a baptism on site. At least I remembered that.)
To move her event though, I’d have to find a room in which she could present the video portion of her training. That, it turns out, is why God invented laptops. If I can just get mine to work with one of the screens we have in various rooms… But now, I’m even more nervous because to call me technologically challenged would be a huge understatement. I took my laptop and tried to set it up with the big screen TV in the Friendship Room. No go. (By this time, Jim Brantly has come in early for the baptism and is following me around in my frantic movements trying to break through my fog to offer his help.)
Next, I think maybe I can hook up the laptop to the TV in Room 503. So, I hurry to 503. Success! Yes, it works! It’s at about that moment that Jim looks at me and says, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so flustered.”
Ouch. I try never to appear flustered in public—it’s just part of my persona (though the sweat running down my back told me I was, in fact, very flustered). Clearly, although I was trying to manage it, my anxiety was oozing out of me. Maybe pouring out; maybe that wasn’t sweat. (Though it will come as a surprise to my family, I really do try to avoid getting flustered; I really do try to be a consistent “non-anxious presence.”)
As I head out of 503 to tell Kim the “good news” that I’ve found a place I’d like her to move to, I find her already in the process of moving her stuff and her people and ready to head wherever she needs to head and generally being incredibly calm and gracious about the whole thing.
And finally, my brain still spinning far too fast, there was the wonderful event of Royce’s baptism, featuring his confession of faith before his wonderful and gracious family and friends and Keith’s wonderful prayer. A truly exciting moment and one that I will always feel privileged to have been a small part of. One of those moments in life that really matters.
When it was all over, I realized that I would need to wait until Kim’s training was finished to retrieve the laptop. No problem, plenty of things to do.
But that also gave me time to process my anxiety. Jim’s comment (born of concern) and Kim’s calm graciousness (in contrast to my flustered state) and Royce’s momentous decision for faith had all worked together to get my attention and refocus me on something deeper. Why had I gotten so flustered over what had happened, so flustered and overwrought at such an incredibly special, God-infused, joy-creating moment?
The answer actually was obvious.
Things have been pretty busy lately and even though I know better, what I was allowing to be pressed out of my days was the very set of practices that could keep me centered and calm and rightly focused in God’s presence. When I actually do them.
I think through things prayerfully when I walk, particularly when I walk outside.
Not time lately for too many walks, particularly the last week or so.
I try to use centering prayer, just being silent before God, at least once a day.
No time for that for a while.
I try to keep my devotional and “preparation” Bible reading separate.
Too many preps to have time for devotional reading lately.
Whatever the excuses or reasons I might offer, Jim’s comment, Kim’s graciousness, and Royce’s act of faith and courage somehow came together Tuesday night to slap me upside the head and grab my attention: Greg, you can’t be a spiritually-minded person if you are not intentionally, consistently training your mind in that direction. Greg, you’ve begun to coast spiritually and you’re paying a price. You’re anxious because you’re relying on your own strength. This will not work.
I know the texts. I teach the texts. Set your minds on things above… (Colossians 3.2a). Be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12.2). Even one I was going to use in my Wednesday night class: Train yourself in godliness… (1 Timothy 4.7b). But was I listening? Was I applying it to me?
So, Wednesday morning, I read devotionally and had a prayerful walk. It was a great and refreshing time. But there’s still work to do—I was sorely tempted the rest of the day to wish for that time back as deadlines real and imagined loomed.
Well, there’s my confession. I don’t want my spiritual life to be of the cut flower persuasion: a cut flower will fade over time, sometimes slowly, sometimes pretty quickly, but the fade is inevitable. And my fade was in full view Tuesday evening. Instead, I want to be attached to God. I need his strength for my life, in my life. I want to send roots deep into his Word and to seek his presence by the Spirit and to emulate the mind of Christ. It will take intentional action to stay attached, to continue to be open to transformation. Feel free to hold me to that, as Jim and Kim and Royce perhaps unknowingly did Tuesday night.