Physiologist Walter Cannon first coined the phrase “fight or flight” to describe the reaction of animals and people to stress, to real or perceived threats. When placed in situations we consider dangerous, or even when we hear about traumatic events (called “witness trauma”), we almost instantaneously react, preparing for quick response.
The physical body undergoes immediate changes: adrenaline rushes into the bloodstream, giving a surge of energy. Natural “fight” reactions include attacking the enemy: animals may growl while humans want to punch or kick.
The mind is also affected: priorities are scrambled because every activity now moves to the Number One spot. The urge to take flight—move away from the danger—has both mental and emotional ramifications. Freezing can be illustrated by animals “playing dead”; humans staying locked in their homes, refusing all social contact. We have all known people who simply freeze in response to trauma. The body stiffens, the emotions shut down.
But is it possible for Christians to have another response to turmoil in addition to these normal “human-wired” reactions? David in Psalm 31 wrote that he was in distress and anguish, experiencing sorrow and loneliness, but he went on to say, “I trust in you, Lord… My times are in your hands…the Lord showed me the wonders of His love when I was in a city under siege.”
As we practice on a daily basis placing our faith in a God of love and grace, we become better prepared for the impacts of trauma that inevitably strike. Someone wrote that the practical spiritual disciplines like solitude, stillness, listening for God are the tools with which we dig furrows in the heart to train us for recognizing God’s presence. And it is that Presence which abides with us in our “besieged cities.”
By Marilyn Ehle
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