In his book, “Failure of Nerve,” Dr. Edwin H. Friedman identifies five characteristics of “chronically anxious personal families.”
1. Reactivity: the vicious cycle of intense reactions of each member to events and to one another. 2. Herding: a process through which the forces for togetherness triumph over the forces for individuality and move everyone to adapt to the least mature members. 3. Blame displacement: an emotional state in which family members focus on forces that have victimized them rather than taking responsibility for their own being and destiny. 4. A quick-fix mentality: a low threshold for pain that constantly seeks symptom relief rather than fundamental change. 5. Lack of self-differentiated leadership: a failure of nerve that both stems from and contributes to the first four. (p.54)
I would suggest that what is true of humanity’s families is true of God’s family; the church. As a matter of fact Friedman suggests that any organization is susceptible to becoming “chronically anxious” and rendered ineffective by these five conditions.
Years ago I sat with one of my mentors who also happened to be a Clinical Counselor, and poured my heart out. It was one of those conversations I’m not proud of looking back. Kind of an “everybody hates me, nobody loves me” moment. John let me rattle on for quite a while and when I finished he took a few seconds to respond. Leaning back in his chair he said; “Brian, my prayer for you is that God will enlarge your capacity for pain.”
“What?” This was NOT what I wanted to hear.
And then he leaned forward. “Yeah, you heard me. I know it sounds rough but here’s the deal. You will never become who you believe God has called you to become, and you will never do what you believe God has called you to do, if your skin doesn’t get a lot thicker and your heart a lot stronger. Where you say you want to go is going to hurt.” And then he didn’t say this, but I heard it anyway… “Deal with it.”
I challenge you to reflect on these five chronically anxious behaviors and see if the shoe fits. If it does, welcome to the dance, Cinderella. The prince isn’t coming, but the truth will set you free. Sometimes short term chaos precedes a breakthrough. This is no time for a failure of nerve.
“Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” (Hebrews 12:12-13)