Have you ever experienced an interaction with a friend or acquaintance where something seemed off? The person was there physically, but their mind was elsewhere. Now picture that same scenario, but imagine that you are trying to tell this person something troubling you. You are incredibly uncomfortable sharing this, but this is a trusted friend.
Regardless of intention, your friend's absentmindedness interferes with your connection. You now hesitate or altogether avoid being vulnerable with this friend. Maybe you will try again later, or maybe not. You think to yourself that perhaps you chose the wrong friend.
Depending on how you feel later, you could try again with someone else, but who? Instead, you think, maybe I will call the first person later. After all, they could have been having a bad day.
While this is merely an example, what we know is that being present matters. On any given day, many things are vying for our attention. The convenient excuse is to blame everything on technology. Instead of blaming, we must take a more active role.
Being present is a choice, a practice, a discipline. Blaming other things or people helps no one. So how can we take this and learn from it? Let us revisit the concept of connection from my article, Loving Those With Anxiety - The Importance of Connection.
What Do We Know
Human connection is something we all need. Whether in business, friendships, or with family, personal connection is essential. We look for it on social media, via text, phone, FaceTime, or by meeting a friend for coffee. So what goes into a healthy connection with another human being?
Ingredients For Connection
- Be present
- See people
- Listen intently
- Encourage them
Before diving into being present, let's go back to why it is essential to be present. The overarching goal in this context is to connect with a friend or family member living with anxiety. Establishing a connection is vital in their recovery.
Why is connection so important?
When anyone struggling with anxiety experiences a sense of safety, a connection is possible, and healing can occur. Anytime your loved one feels connected to another human, they feel less alone in their fight with fear. This trust and connection can empower them with the hope they need that day.
The first critical ingredient for connection is to be present. I believe there is no better example of a healthy relationship with fear than Jesus Christ. Jesus was keenly aware of the importance of being present. The Bible contains many examples of Jesus being present, but one in particular sticks out. It is the story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead.
Let's take a look at the story starting in John 11:1-3.
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick."
John 11:1-3 NIV
John 11 opens by telling of two sisters, Mary and Martha, who send word to their friend Jesus that their brother Lazarus is sick. In verse 3, John describes Lazarus as "...the one you love..." Knowing nothing else, the reader might assume that Jesus knew the two sisters and Lazarus as good or even intimate friends.
When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea."
John 11:4-7 NIV
Jesus' Response To The News
When Jesus heard of Lazarus' sickness, he was in no hurry. He needed to finish what he was there to do, and he knew nothing prevented him from healing Lazarus. Panic did not fill his response. Seeing their distress, Jesus took the time to reassure his disciples. He even shared the purpose of his delay.
7 Tips For Being Present
1. Remember Who's In Control
Rest knowing God is sovereign, omniscient(all-knowing), and omnipresent(everywhere).
Fear and anxiety are contagious! It is easy to be swayed by the emotions of other people. In your attempt to connect, avoid being sucked into their world of anxiety. Anxiety and fear are powerful emotions that are incredibly real to the person experiencing them. It is easy to get drawn into the other person's emotions.
2. Avoid Unnecessary Urgency
Urgency in others does not justify a response in you or me.
What I have noticed is that fear is often the motive for the urgent. When acknowledging another person, be careful not to dismiss their feelings. Whether the concern is genuine or not, their urgency does not constitute the need for urgent action on your part.
"But Rabbi," they said, "a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?"
John 11:8 NIV
When Jesus said it was time to visit Lazarus, his disciples responded with fear about being stoned.
Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world's light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light." After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up."
John 11:9-11 NIV
3. Acknowledge The Person Speaking
When someone speaks to you, STOP what you are doing and show you are present. If you need a minute, look the person in the eye and ask them for it.
"I want to listen to what you have to tell me, but I need a minute to finish what I am working on. Can we talk in XYZ minutes?"
Note: Eye contact from both parties is essential before attempting. The person speaking can determine if the need is urgent by reading the person's emotions.
4. Look For The Need Behind The Emotion
After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up."
John 11:9-11 NIV
Jesus saw their fear and assured them of what he/they would do in verse 11.
5. Acknowledge the Emotion & 6. Avoid being dismissive
No matter how unrealistic or off the person may sound, acknowledge the other person's fear. You are not validating their fear. You are acknowledging the feelings of the other person. It says to the other person, "I see and care about you."
"That sounds like it is rough. Can you tell me more about it?"
7. Meet People Where They Are
His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better." Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him."
John 11:12-15 NIV
When the disciples didn't understand, Jesus spoke plainly so the disciples would understand. Even on their way, Jesus took the time to be present with his disciples. He did not gloss over or dismiss their fear. He was not condescending towards them. Jesus met them in the middle of their feelings of fear and anxiety.
Not So Fast
In verses 1-15 of John 11, we see a great example of how we can be present for those around us. While it might be tempting to say, "but this was Jesus," I encourage you to stick with me. It is essential to realize that being present is a discipline. Any discipline worth doing should challenge you.
Remember Why We Are Here
I am not implying that we can raise the dead, but we can choose love. It can be the driving force for how we treat others, especially those living with anxiety. We will inevitably make mistakes, but we can always return to love as our motivation. We only need to open our Bible to read how Jesus was present and loving toward others.
Allow God's Love To Guide You
Think back to all of the questions from the disciples. It was evident that love was the motivating factor for Jesus as he patiently met all their needs. Also, remember what Romans 8:11 says for followers of Jesus. "The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you..."
Ask For Help
When you mess up or are exhausted, ask the Holy Spirit for help. There is no shame in asking for God's help. If you are struggling to love someone living with anxiety, ask for help. Your friend needs you. This family member needs you. Being present for them is a way to love God as you love them.
“The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.”
Romans 8:11 NLT