It is an understatement to say we encounter free-floating anxiety pretty much everywhere these days—at work and school, in our organizations, in politics, and in our homes and families. We can sense our muscles tightening, our jaws clenching, and our blood pressure rising when the anxiety of others creeps into our psyche and hooks us emotionally, physically, and even spiritually.
Family systems therapist Edwin Friedman coined the term “non-anxious presence” to describe the person who is able to not be drawn into the fray of anxiety swirling around them.
Being non-anxious doesn’t mean we don’t feel fear, anxiety, depression, or panic. Being non-anxious means we learn to identify our own anxieties and process them with Jesus and my three closest relationships in a healthy, Gospel-informed way. As we learn to do this, we can become the “shalom presence” in a tense situation, the listening ear, and validating voice that helps another return to shalom.
Jesus is the ultimate non-anxious, shalom-providing presence in our lives.
The background of Jesus’ life’s work is the book of Isaiah. In Luke 4:16-21, Jesus walks into the synagogue, and by no accident the scroll of Isaiah is handed to Him. Jesus unrolls it and proclaims His “mission of shalom” this way:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, “BOOM! Shalom is available here and now through me.”
Jesus’ affirmation of this text makes it clear that healing and wholeness is a central task of His mission. Theologian N.T. Wright says that the healing miracles of Jesus are the gift of God’s shalom. Shalom is a Hebrew word packed with meaning: it most literally means “peace,” but in the broader Biblical context, refers to God’s “goodness” and His “wholeness.”
In other words, shalom is not just “peace” as some sort of “cease fire,” but rather the total restoration of wholeness in every area of a person’s life and surroundings.
Jesus came to mend what had been broken, restoring wholeness in us and then, through us. Again, Isaiah prophetically describes Jesus’ redeeming work on the cross through the lens of shalom:
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace (shalom), and with his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5
DESTROYER OF SHALOM: TRAUMA
There was a Great Divorce between Adam and Eve and God and creation when temptation from the serpent led to the first sin. A rupture occurred within the extended spiritual family system. A rupture is defined as: 1) an instance of breaking or bursting suddenly and entirely, 2) a breach of a harmonious relationship.
This relational fracture was traumatic on so many levels. It was this very rupture that created devastating consequences, not only to all of creation, but it also contributed to the death of the spirit, soul, and body of humankind. God’s wonderful creation fell apart. The souls of humanity broke. Relationships were severed.
These disastrous ruptures bring trauma into our lives.
Trauma is an event or experience that overwhelms an individual’s emotional and relational capacity to process new experiences. We can look at trauma in two ways. We identify some as the “trauma of bad things” and others, the “trauma of absence.”
The Trauma of Absence
God designed us to grow and thrive in our family of origin. He created the idea for the family so we could know and be known, love and be loved.
An individual must receive secure attachment, joy, rest, nurturing love, and opportunities to develop through their nuclear family. Through these nurturing relationships, we learn to give these same things away.
“‘Trauma A’ comes from the absence of good things we should all receive, things that give us emotional stability and security. These absences create difficulties in relationships” (Wilder, Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You).
The trauma of absence is directly connected to our Garden of Eden mandate. God’s intention for a family was good. Humankind has messed it up.
Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are brought into a new family, God’s family! Through our adoption, our place in God’s family can heal “traumas of absence” over time. As we are loved and nurtured in this new family, we serve and disciple others, helping them to grow up emotionally as well. When we learn to give and receive love in this safe, nurturing environment, we can be healed.
The Trauma of Bad Things
The “Trauma from Bad Things” can happen when harmful events in our life damage us physically or emotionally. We point to these events and know what shouldn’t have happened. These raw memories are stored up, and a host of overwhelming emotions that war against shalom occurs. Trauma brings pain.
When we have traumatic memories of events, we have to understand that time does not heal all wounds. The wounds of trauma do not disappear when we store them in the far back recesses of our minds and refuse to think about them.
There is good news, though. We know that Jesus can heal the memories of traumatic events. The healing of trauma will happen most fully in relationship.
We were wounded in a family. Jesus’ plan is for each of us to be healed in an extended spiritual family. As you build trust over time, you can share this pain with each other, bearing one another’s burdens.
In the healing process, Shalom is restored when there is forgiveness for wrong things done to me or the wrong things done by me. The manifest presence of the Spirit of Jesus encounters our broken hearts and speaks words of life, love, and healing. Jesus and His deep love can bring freedom!
The oldest family in existence is the one the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share.
Jesus provided the way of adoption into Heaven’s family—we get to be a part of it! When we enter into God’s family system, love can heal and restore us. Through Jesus, we are the Trinitarian extended family image-bearers. We are adopted sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers, bound to a city called New Jerusalem—invited into this deep ocean of a love-bond between the Father, Son, and Spirit.
The Gospel of Jesus reaches our spirit; the work of His Spirit continues to take more ground by healing, recovering, and restoring the emotions of our soul. Focusing on a soul level, our responsibility today is to both identify where we might be stuck in trauma and then begin to say “yes” to enter into the lifelong journey as an overcomer—to learn how to effectively steward the garden of our own heart and the hearts of our spiritual extended families on mission.