It was a year ago now that a bird found its way into our home. It was a sweet little Carolina Wren that had chosen one of our hanging porch plants in which to nest.
One early spring evening, my husband brought the plants inside to protect them from a dip in temperature. No sooner had he set one of the plants down in our foyer than the bird shot out of its bedding. In its confused state, it began a panicked flight through the rooms in our home.
Quite surprised ourselves, we gave chase. The wren darted this way and that with us in hot pursuit, our son’s butterfly net in hand.
After 30 minutes of flurried activity, the bird and my husband were shut into a one-windowed bedroom. The show-down intensified and ended, finally, with the bird’s escape to the great outdoors.
We were tuckered out from all of the commotion. I can only imagine how the poor wren felt. While we had her best interest in mind, I think our methods must have traumatized the dear thing, and I don’t blame her if she went in search of a new place to nest.
Last week, a friend told me of a bird who had recently found its way into her home. I expected a harried tale not unlike ours, but that is not what unfolded. Her bird was a finch, nesting in a wreath on her front door. When my friend opened the door to allow the breeze to flow, the finch took flight.
Unlike my husband and me, my friend’s response was to sit still. For 30 minutes she sat in silence. As she watched the bird fly this way and that, she didn’t pursue. She didn’t panic. No butterfly nets were needed. As my friend sat still as stone, the finch found its own way out.
Two birds. Two houses. Two very different stories. In this tale of two birds, the difference is this: My friend offered a nonanxious presence to her visitor. My husband and I did not. Where my friend was silent and still, we matched our little bird’s anxiety and thereby likely increased it. We didn’t mean to. We wanted to help. But our help wasn’t very helpful.
The outcome for both birds was the same, but the means by which it came, the energy exerted and the trauma levels experienced were vastly different.
I long to be a nonanxious presence to all who come my way. Not only birds, but people. Not only people but thoughts, feelings, grief or pain. Things I’d rather shoo out the door as quickly as possible.
Can I be in their presence in a nonanxious way? Can I allow them space, trusting they will eventually find their path out or through? By engaging in a panicked chase, am I only intensifying the negative experience? (The answer to that last question is yes.)
I read recently that the best way to help someone deescalate or regulate intense emotions is to put them in close proximity to someone who is calm. Like my friend and her finch.
Jesus is my calm presence, the host whose home quiets me. This leads me to wonder if, when God seems silent and still, God is offering a gift to me.
I don’t always experience it as such. I want God to get as riled up as I am. Doesn’t God care? Surely God will get up and do something!
But people in a panic rarely need someone to panic with them. What if God is present to me, like my friend to her finch? With feathers unruffled.
My thoughts turn to the story of Jesus asleep in the boat while a storm raged.
The disciples were incensed. How could he? Why wasn’t he matching their level of distress? Didn’t he care?
I used to side with the disciples. But I am beginning to see it differently now. Might Jesus be to us like my friend to the finch?
Edwin Friedman, a Jewish rabbi and therapist, coined the term “nonanxious presence.” He used it to describe a person who won’t be drawn into the fray of anxiety.
I want to be like this. Like Christ in the storm. Or my friend to her finch. A peaceful presence in a panicked world.