I once auditioned for a national commercial.
The tagline of the product?
“Never let them see you sweat.”
These commercials were famous. The spokesperson would offer an additional summary at the end of the ad, such as “Everyone feels pressure. Winners don’t let it show.”
I didn’t get the part.
Ironically, it was how I interpreted at the time what Christian leadership meant. I presumed from the examples around me that I always needed to have a commanding presence and didn’t show any sign of weakness before others.
As the years in ministry flew by, I started to pick up on a new ethos: “Just be real.”
It felt like the postmodern antithesis of the former modern concept. I again misinterpreted its meaning and presumed it meant that I needed to tell everyone how I felt about everything without a filter.
It seems like a healthier approach is somewhere in the middle.
I found words for it via a video presentation by William Vanderbloemen on the emotional components to consider when building healthy teams. His encouragement was that you want people around you who can own what it means to have a “N.A.P. – a Non Anxious Presence.”
Vanderbloemen offered the example of driving with someone who had something randomly hit the windshield. Instead of freaking out (which could have been a reasonable “just be real” reaction), the driver pulled over and walked through options to assess and address the situation.
You’ve probably experienced the upside or downside of this in ministry situations based on how often or how little this type of anxiety-regulation happens, even within you.
- Instead of filling an awkward silence with noise, you fill it with depth.
- Instead of reacting to a stressful situation with random anxiety, you construct a framework for playfully-sober creativity.
- Instead of giving into the pessimism of problem-sided despair, you pragmatically fashion solution-sided hope.
My sense is a N.A.P. isn’t meant to shut emotions down but to give the best emotions a chance to have their say over worst ones. Likewise, it’s not about elevating diagnostic problem-finding thinking at the expense of what’s working. The irony of becoming over-analytical is that you become emotionally concerned about your own analysis.
Rather, it nurtures the Spirit-given fruit of patience in such a way that we model the Incarnation – God being present in a situation that defies the storms.
Sort of like how Jesus chose a nap/N.A.P. on the boat with His disciples.
A few things that may help you nurture this:
- Spend time with God daily. You can be structured or unstructured in how this happens, but without “roots” you can’t bear “fruit.” An eternal perspective will likewise help you consider the big picture when temporal chaos wants to reign. (see John 15:5-6)
- Consider “after this.” Jesus said that unless a seed falls to the ground a tree can’t grow, much like how some of the situations that are dying in front of you today are providing the seeds for a breakthrough out of the ground later. What if that pregnant teenager experiences something through her trial that launches a future crisis-pregnancy advocacy through her down the road? Might the immature know-it-all adults around you eventually face-plant themselves into humility…. and that’s when you’ll be able to have the mature conversation you can’t seem to have with them now? Sometimes “this” won’t make sense until whatever happens “after this.” (see Luke 21:9)
- Access reverse-engineering thinking. Sometimes a problem is God’s way of getting your attention on what caused it. If you’re not naturally gifted at walking backward and discerning this, put people around you who are. (see Matthew 7:16-20)
- Embrace interruptions. Curriculum is the teacher’s plan. Interruption is God’s curriculum. Every door that says “exit” from this side just might say “entrance” from the other. It’s not about thinking outside the box… it’s about realizing God (and His ability to work) cannot be contained in a box. (see Romans 8:28)
- Own what you can and can’t own. A great line in The Avengers happens when Captain America is about to parachute into a fight between Thor and Loki. After being warned by Black Widow he’s out of his league in such a god-like fight, he states, “There’s only one God, ma’am… and I’m pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that.” Let God be God, but also let you be you. You are going to have limits, but you’re also going to have skills. Use what you can to further progress, offer a reasonable hope and set up what is beyond you for further human or divine intervention. (see 1 Corinthians 12:27)
- Let silence be your friend (and a spiritual pathway). According to James, taming your tongue is an impossible task. What you can do is let God transform you on the inside when you want to speak on the outside. A quick pause to pray can help you avoid destructive conversational habits like false summaries, circumstantial anger, quick judgments and more. (see Luke 6:45)
I’ve heard some of this has been attributed back to Edwin Friedman. Here’s one presentation on it:
What if the way we minister matters as much as what we minister?
What if our desire to feel important is getting in the way of real solutions?