Most of us have heard of the “fight or flight” response. It was first described in the early 1900’s by neurologist and physiologist, Walter Bradford Cannon, as an automatic, primitive response to danger. Cannon theorized that every conscious creature responds to fear in one of these two ways.
When I was first introduced to this concept, I remember being a bit confused. When my danger radar goes off, my automatic response is to freeze—to be paralyzed by my fear.
I wonder if Walter Bradford Cannon had ever heard of fainting goats. If you haven’t, it looks like you have some YouTubing to do. They’re entertaining to watch, but the sad thing is that I tend to have a lot in common with those little guys. I only wish I had the ability to ferociously fight through my adversity. Even fleeing from it sounds better than being paralyzed by it.
On July 7, 14 Dallas police officers were shot—five of them killed—because of a uniform they were wearing. Less than two days later, my husband bravely put on that same uniform and walked out the door. Saying goodbye to him that day was different than the thousands before it. I remember sitting silently in our house after he left, unable to think straight because of my fear.
Fear offers a strange sense of comfort to me. As illogical as it sounds, worrying is something I can “do” in the middle a situation which I have no control over. I am really good at making situations a hundred times worse than they really are.
In the same way, knowing that I’m being fearful really bothers me. As a Christ follower, I know I am called to reject fear and anxiety.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4: 6-7
As I sat paralyzed in my fear, this scripture finally popped into my head. I was reminded that I had permission to pray and present my requests to God, who loves beyond circumstances and what we understand.
Lord, please don’t let anyone hate my husband so much that they would hurt him, I prayed. Please don’t make me have to explain to my kids why daddy isn’t coming home.
My God loves me so much that He gives me permission to bring Him my fears. Jesus boldly promises in Matthew 6 that He already knows what I need, even before I ask. But there’s something so calming about talking to Him and acknowledging that He offers protection.
Left to defend ourselves in the midst of fear, our natural reaction might be to “fight or flight,” or in my case, be paralyzed and then devoured. But because He is with us, He tells us not to worry or be anxious about anything. We can simply call on Him.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away.”
God doesn’t flee when there is danger approaching. We see in Jesus’ example that He lays down His life to protect me, you, and all of His sheep.
What scares me doesn’t scare God. Having power over all things, running away isn’t His thing. And fighting for control or to overcome anything is pointless unless He is leading the way.
When I spend my time worrying about what dangers might approach, I’m not resting in and enjoying the perfect love God has shown me.
Through this situation, God taught me a lot. I learned that even when I feel paralyzed by the world around me, the Spirit of God in us submits our prayers to Him.
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”
He’s that sovereign and that powerful. But if you ask me, I’d still prefer to be aware of my prayers because of the peace they provide. They remind us who is really in control, allowing us to worship and take refuge in Him. They allow us to release our fears and trust instead.
Out of His incredible love, God hears our heart’s cry and then fights on our behalf. But then He goes a step even further. He graciously gives us this incredible permission to consciously turn to Him in prayer, drawing confidence and peace from knowing He is there.
I’m glad Walter Cannon didn’t have this all figured out. Our only options in responding to fear aren’t just to fight, flee, or especially become paralyzed. We can choose to pray, seek and trust in God’s comfort.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.