In 1952, German-American theologian Paul Tillich explained the cause of anxiety in what is reputed to be one of the greatest books of the 20th century, The Courage To Be.  Tillich was a highly respected professor at Union Theological, Harvard and lastly at the University of Chicago. Written in the language of academics and intellectuals, his book pinpoints with powerful clarity that there are two causes of anxiety.  These are:  “The courage to be-me” versus “the courage to be-long”.

These two innate desires explain the cause of anxiety because they represent the dilemma of two opposing forces.  The more we seek to “be-me”, the more we risk alienating the groups to whom we wish to “be-long,” that is, our spouse, our family, our job, our social groups, and even our country. Yet, the more we seek to be-long to these groups, the more we feel pressured to not be-me, that is, to abandon our own deepest needs in order to fit in and be accepted. Thus making lasting commitments remains extremely difficult.

It is a dilemma that causes anxiety about three core fears, according to Tillich:

1. Fate and Death:  Fate is the on-going fear of random things smacking us, while death is the final end-point.

2. Emptiness and Meaninglessness:  Emptiness is the on-going fear that we are not content about our achievements, while meaninglessness is where life becomes pointless.

3. Guilt and Condemnation: Guilt is the on-going fear of not being who we ought to be, while condemnation is the final judgment that we have lost our destiny.

All of these anxieties lead to despair and all of us need to find a way to rise above them.

Tillich’s solution is spiritual in a surprisingly different way, for a traditional Christian theologian.  He says, “The ultimate source of the courage to be, is the “God above God.”  He goes on, “The God above God or theism is present, although hidden, in every divine-human encounter.”  Tillich writes this closing statement in his book: “The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.”

I interpret Tillich’s work as this: That God is always present but is hidden from us by our anxieties and self-doubt.  We can only truly experience Him when we have completely lost Him, buried in our anxieties.  “Surrender” is the word that comes to my mind.  In our despair, God will appear to us if we are present-minded and open to Divine encounter. Until we have that encounter, we continue in a relentless struggle to rise above our anxieties. This is our collective human struggle from the beginning of time.

My own path out of this dilemma is by practicing The First Rule of Inner Peace.  “First get neutral about outcomes and then you will see clearly what to do.” It is based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:5.  You get neutral by not judging life’s fears and difficulties, but rather seeking a state of “spiritual indifference” towards the outcomes at stake.   You are neutral when you have no thoughts about ‘self.’  In those moments, you experience, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 4:10).

Since anxiety leaves us feeling off-centered, focusing on getting neutral is a powerful antidote to anxiety.  My experience is that in order to get neutral, you need to accept that what you fear could indeed occur.  You rise above this fear by cultivating the “courage to be-me.”  You are on a unique path in your life and that path belongs to you alone with God, although other people obviously play important roles in your journey.

Getting neutral connects us to God and allows us to see our circumstances with clear, spiritual eyes unbiased by our own self-protective anxieties and judgments that blind us.  Thus, we make wiser decisions to which we are deeply committed. We enjoy a closer walk with God as we face each difficult challenge along the road of life.  The result of this daily practice is inner peace that constantly grows as time goes by.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]John Kuypers is a leadership expert. He is the author of four books on the spiritual leadership principle of first getting neutral before responding to people who upset us. Follow John on Facebook and Twitter. Sign up on the right to receive John’s blog postings.[/author_info] [/author]