I nearly froze when she said we were going to watch “The Antwone Fischer Story.” I thought to myself, “The f@!* I am! I already watched that, lived that, and it’s not worth repeating.”
As Mary Laymon, our facilitator, would go on to explain, my anxiety was high and I felt out of control because my normal ways of dealing with anxiety were not working. She was facilitating and not me, so I couldn’t set the agenda. The group had individual needs that differed from mine, so I couldn’t over-function and look successful. I was supposed to be at the retreat, so I couldn’t distance with a believable excuse. And my last attempt to create conflict, well, I was getting over a cold and didn’t have energy for that. I felt stuck, yet sincerely curious and interested in learning how to get unstuck when confronted with stalemate situations where I was working the burnout side of the triangle. (Yes, we all triangle someone or something.)
She played the movie and I watched most of it. I left the room when I knew it would be hard, and I gave myself permission to muse about things in a new way as I noticed details about family systems—the theme for the weekend retreat. My family system was deeply connected to the church: as institution, as extended family, as sense of community, as priority over family relationships. In time, I applied family systems theory to the story I tell myself about being a Stevenson. I noticed for the first time that although I was eager for deeper communication with my family of origin, my parents had done the best they could to move into a healthier lifestyle.
That gave me a sense of peace and courage as I embraced my opportunity to do the same. Living in intentional community with a mainline church infrastructure is not home to me. Yet, it has a sense of family for me because I’ve always been a pioneer, a frontrunner, an entrepreneur who wanted to see individual, organizational and group development for the sake of a shared goal. In the case of this Praxis Community, I see our shared goal as this: learn to listen to each other well enough to support each other’s vocational discernment and in turn to be a healthy, safe fellow who can share in the joy and suffering of the consequences of the resulting choices.
Mary has a way of being present and saying things that I wouldn’t usually say. Yet, when she says them it creates a clearer picture of what is real and what is not. I appreciate that this intentional community has a special relationship with her. When I heard that the Family Systems retreat was an option for our program year, I couldn’t imagine it not being beneficial for our household relationships. What I have only begun to imagine more faithfully, is how I can introduce the theory and a sense of calm to my family of origin. In fact, as I venture to a family reunion after the program year ends, I’m wondering what new conversations I’ll have with siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and family friends. As a community, we have learned skills and sometimes chosen to practice those with each other. Along the way we’ve heard stories that moved us to tears and others that gave us courage to try something new. As I grow my own family unit, I am beyond grateful that I’ll have this theory in mind to support my decisions for dealing with anxiety.