Early in their seminary training, many pastors-to-be learn a curious phrase. Their professors instruct them that they are called to be a “non-anxious presence,” that is, the one person in the room who maintains a peaceful presence when everyone around them is losing it. When a child has died, when a couple is on the verge of divorce, when someone is in despair, when the church is threatening to split, they are to be present in a way that reorients the emotional and spiritual atmosphere.
Instead of becoming enmeshed in the emotional atmosphere, getting sucked in by the frustration, fear, or anger that may be swirling around them, they are able to maintain their equilibrium. They tend to solve problems not by trying to fix others but by focusing on how they can improve themselves. For instance, instead of instructing people to “stay calm” in a difficult situation, they put their energy into remaining calm themselves. Even one such leader at the helm of an organization can turn the tide.
A look at how the Gospels portray Jesus reveals that Jesus was the master of the non-anxious presence. Sleeping in the boat in the midst of a storm, feeding the five thousand with a few loaves of bread, responding to the hypocrisy of religious leaders, raising a dead girl to life despite the taunts of those who thought it couldn’t be done — Jesus was often the one peaceful person in the room. He was also the one who consistently challenged his disciples to peace-filled lives of greater maturity.
Jesus gives us a hope that is grounded in him and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Trusting in Christ and relying on the Spirit, we cannot help but overflow with the joy, peace, and hope that God provides. The peace that counts, the peace that is real, is the peace that emanates from our relationship with Christ, not from the fact that our circumstances at any given moment happen to be favorable or pleasant. As we grow in his likeness and are transformed by his Spirit, we begin to experience his peace in greater measure.