10.24.2012

Anxiety, Again

For the past few days I've been at a conference on storytelling with Mark Yaconelli. It's been a pretty intense experience; as I said to Mark when I thanked him for the experience, I loved and struggled with every moment. One of the most important things I learned was not actually about the power of telling stories but the power of listening to them. An active listener evokes the story, receives the story, honors the story. Mark talked about how desperately people need to be heard, how he imagines heaven not in any of the typical manifestations but as a place where everyone is heard. (He also pointed out that according to some biblical scholar's calculations, Jesus spent over 60% of his ministry listening to people.) 

We spent quite a bit of time listening to stories, and also some time considering and telling our own. I tried to apply the same sort of holy listening to my own storyline, and was startled at the central role anxiety has had in my life. I shouldn't necessarily be so surprised; I know full well I've suffered from anxiety, and have had a few seasons in which it was acute and debilitating. But as we considered, per the assignment, what we were yearning for during the various chapters of our lives, I realized my yearnings have almost always been saturated with anxiety. 

And then, in the midst of this, a new and powerful wave of anxiety damn near knocked me over yesterday afternoon. 

This particular anxiety is not irrational, though of course I always believe the objects of my anxiety merit the full force of my fretting. This particular anxiety is rooted in my deep and abiding love for someone. Which is interesting, eh? I have all this anxiety about the people I love, but supposedly perfect love casts out all fear. Maybe I am an imperfect lover, desperately afraid of loss. 

I don't want anyone to die. Ever.

Despite the rawness I feel right now, I'm grateful. Grateful to be reminded of the simple necessity of prayer. Grateful that I am blessed with so many people who listen to me, and so many people I am honored to listen to. Grateful for the congregation I serve now, and the congregation that formed me as a pastor. Grateful for my dear Ben, who is at home with our beloved girls so that I can run off to cool places like Austin for continuing education events. Grateful for the generous College of Pastoral Leaders grant that is footing the bill. 

One of the storytellers I heard spoke convincingly about the gifts and graces of some of the most difficult elements of her life. I thought of the title and theme of Brennan Manning's memoir: all is grace. It's also the lesson of Ann Voskamp's work - giving thanks for everything, even the pain. 

In that spirit I find myself oddly grateful for my anxiety. It is, for better or worse, one of the ways my love is made manifest. It is occasionally a bearer of truth and wisdom. Sometimes it tells what to do. Sometimes it tells me what not to do. They say to keep your friends close and your enemies closer; maybe anxiety is something I must befriend, learning to listen to it, teaching it to listen to me, hoping for the sake of everyone involved that sometimes we could fall into the comfortable silence that only the best of friends can sustain.

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