Years ago, I was preaching on a Sunday evening. I was upset about something and it came through in the message. (I think I had just read a book and was battling some concern as I prepared this message.) That evening, my in-laws were present. After church was over, my father-in-law who had preached for many years asked me if he could make a comment about the message. He said, “You know, I agree with most everything you said. However, you seemed very anxious and worried as you were preaching. As people listening to you, when you seem anxious and worried, we begin to become anxious and worried. We take our cues from you.”
A few years later, our family was preparing to move to a new location to begin a new ministry. I was worried about our young children. Would they be ok? They would be leaving their friends and starting a new school. Again, my in-laws said, “They will take their cues from you. If you will smile and talk to them about the adventure you all are about to undertake, they will listen. If you will relax and be excited about all of the new experiences you will have, it will impact them. They watch you.”
Some years later, I would spend three years studying under Dr. Edwin Friedman, author of Generation to Generation and A Failure of Nerve. This meant three trips a year to be with him and a small group near his home in Bethesda, Maryland. Each trip was so valuable. I learned so much during these years. Maybe the most crucial practical lesson was learning how to manage myself as a husband, a father, and a leader.
Consider how we are regularly drawn to become anxious and reactive. Part of the challenge is learning to manage oneself in such an environment.
- A group of elders and ministers meet. They are anxious because some are leaving the congregation. One elder is particularly anxious. He says that if they don’t “upgrade” the church, they are going to lose more members.
- A father and mother are frustrated with their young girls. One will not mind and the other seems to be in perpetual slow motion. There is much yelling in that home with mom and dad screaming demands followed by threats.
- The CEO of a small company stays on the road regularly. Meanwhile, the employees at the home office dread to see him when he returns. He yells and threatens much of the time.
- A husband and wife spend much of their waking hours worrying. In fact, they almost seem to feed on one another’s anxiety.
Perhaps the question to ask is: “Am I managing myself or am I simply reacting? Am I allowing my environment and circumstances to control me or am I being intentional with how I am handling my words, comments, and actions? One thing for sure, I don’t have to let anxiety control me.
Are there times in which we feel worried or anxious? Yes, but we can respond in two ways:
- We can bring our worries and anxieties to the Father above (Matthew 6:25-34).
- We can choose to manage ourselves and our responses instead of simply reacting or behaving out of raw emotion.
Difficult? Of course. However, these strategies can be very helpful in shaping the kind of leader we want to be.