Four simple letters that have the ability to paralyze us. Why?
Blame it all on the amygdalae. These tiny (no bigger than a few centimeters) almond-shaped things buried deep within the right and left temporal lobes of our brain control our fear conditioning and our emotional response to pain. Essentially, they control our body’s response to fear.
When messages of perceived threat are received by the amygdala it activates all the systems in the body which are involved in fight or flight. It triggers stress hormones and the sympathetic nervous system. Our brain becomes hyperalert, pupils dilate, bronchi dilate, breathing accelerates, our heart rate and blood pressure rise, and our organs not vital to survival (like the gastrointestinal system) slow down. Seriously, this is why you can experience indigestion after watching the news. Physically, the systems needed to digest your food shut down due to the fear stimulus the brain just received from the reporter.
The opposite of the sympathetic nervous system is the parasympathetic nervous system. This is our homeostatic or “rest and digest” state. This is where we are at peace.
Dr. Don Baker, author of “What Happy People Know” explains that it is physically impossible to experience gratitude (appreciation) and anxiety or fear at the same time. They come from two opposing systems.
This, my friends, is a major problem for those that follow Christ.
Perhaps when I first said “fear” you heard Zach Williams’ voice in your brain telling you to “cast your fears in the fire, because fear, he is a liar.”
Perhaps 1 John 4:18 came to mind: Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love drives out fear.
You see, there is a direct conflict between emotional fear and the peace of God.
1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”
Matthew 6:10 tells us to
Fill the world with His (God’s) nature, but fear is not the nature of God.
Fear places the body in a physical state of agitation. Mix that with the double-mindedness created when we are separated from God’s purpose for our life–to fill the world with His nature–and it can cause us to simply shut down.
If you are just sitting in your bed right now, huddling under the covers, and just wishing we could hit the reset button for 2020, you are not alone.
Many weeks ago, I allowed myself to go down a very dark hole. I spent hours allowing the imaginations of the mind to spin all kinds of possibilities for the future. In one of the worst ones, we lost our house. We lost the ones that we loved. We lost everything that the world uses to define us. However, at the end, the Lord ultimately gave me peace for each and every scenario and it ended with one thing.
I was still a child of the Lord. My social position and attributes could change, but my identity in Christ could not.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 8:38-39
A peace just flowed over me when I hit “rock bottom” only to realize that the very rock upon which I landed is the very source of our stability.
Ok, that sounds all great and good, but the circumstances around me have not changed at all. So, how do I navigate this new world where I never know if and when I can work, if or when someone around me may die, or if I will still have a home next month?
Seriously, Praise Him.
Let’s go back to some of that science in the beginning. If we can’t experience fear and gratitude at the same time, and God designed us to praise Him at all times, the conclusion would be to start thanking Him for what He has given us. This will help our body transition from operating in the sympathetic system to the parasympathetic–rest and digest–or the place of peace.
You can also breathe. Diaphragm breathing–you know where the air goes way down to your belly–activates the parasympathetic system. There is science behind your mother’s advice to “take a deep breath.” New sales reps for one of the largest pharmaceutical companies are taught to take up to ten deep breaths before responding to someone who is confronting them. It short circuits the fear/anxiety and allows them to respond with logic and peace.
Here’s one of my favorites. Run a finger or two across your lips. Seriously. There are parasympathetic fibers all across your lips. The “COVID-19” is a real issue. Nothing in my closet fits right now. Eating stimulates all those parasympathetic fibers so I’ve tried to stop comfort feeding and now just run my fingers across my lips–after washing my hands of course.
You can do a deep dive into things that will help you stand on the rock and defeat fear. Sunshine. Walking. Movement. Green Plants. (Are you noticing a trend here? They are all pure gifts created by the Lord.)
The ultimate anchor though is the knowledge that we are His children and He does not desert us.
And in His Red Letter words–aka words Christ spoke here on earth: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27
Peace, my friends.