Are you too serious?

One of my favorite quotes comes from my teacher Rabbi Edwin Friedman, “Seriousness is a sign of anxiety.”  If you haven’t read his books Generation to Generation and A Failure of Nerve, I recommend them both–though not for vacation reading!

It’s easy for me to take things too seriously. Early in my marriage, we were expecting house guests. I got upset because we didn’t have clean towels that matched. Of course you had to have matching towels for guests. My husband shook his head. We had enough clean towels, didn’t we?

I still like matching towels for guests, but I’ve learned to lighten up, at least about the towels. However, I can still get caught in anxious seriousness, whether in a family matter or something at church. Whether it’s a mistake by me or another person, someone being treated unfairly, or a budget challenge, it all seems like life or death in that moment. A day later or a year later, I realize that it wasn’t as serious as I thought. It (whatever it was, simply became a focus for my anxiety.

One of the values of taking time off, every week and every year, is it helps us to step back and broaden our perspective. We can see what really matters most to us, and let go of some of the other.

Of course, we care about our work, about helping people make connections with God and with one another, and helping them find ways to do ministry and in our needy and unjust world. That is important. But when we get caught in taking it all too seriously, our attitude get in the way of the work itself.

What I’ve noticed about the people who take it all a little more lightly is that I want to be around them. I want to listen to them. Their lightness creates some space for me to find my own way. I want to be more like that and offer that same presence to others.

What can we do to lighten our own anxious load? Some quick ways:

  • A 5 or 10 minute walk.
  • A joke or cartoon (I used to look at church finance cartoons before budget meetings).
  • Make a brief connection with the most fun person we know, in our church, colleague circle or family.

What do you do to keep yourself from taking everything too seriously?

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