20 Aug How to Have Peace When the World Seems like it’s Falling Apart
“Refuses to don mask; Shot by officer.”
“Schools closed. No services in churches…”
“Wear a mask and save your life.”
These are headlines that ran in newspapers across the nation…in 1918.
In 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic sickened millions around the globe and killed over 650,000 Americans. At the same time, WWI was coming to an end. President Wilson was getting hammered for ignoring the pandemic while putting his focus on the war efforts.
It is common for every generation to think it is living in the worst of times, possibly even proclaiming that the current events are proof that the world is about to come to an end.
Maybe it is. But I don’t have the inside scoop on that timeline.
A person’s life who was born in 1900 looked like this: they quite possibly had a living relative who either was a slave or owned a slave. They lived through a pandemic, a worldwide financial depression causing, most likely, unemployment, poverty, and two world wars– all by the time they turned 40 years old.
What is easy to see is that the world is a hard place to live—today as well as a hundred years ago and really from the beginning of time.
One huge difference from one hundred years ago is that today, almost everyone has a video camera in their pocket… that they quickly whip out… when they witness another grown human throwing a classic three-year-old tantrum…in the aisles of Target! I’m kidding a little, of course, but more and more, we are able to witness, almost in real-time, the debilitating effects of an overstressed world.
So what causes grown men and women to completely meltdown in public places? I think the question for us that begs an answer here, if we are willing to admit it, is this, “Why as a Christian am I not experiencing the peace of God in the midst of mounting stress from sources that are out of my control?”
But doesn’t God promise us peace—His Peace?
If this is true, and I believe it is, then why do we as Christians not only lack this sense of peace, but often feel as if we are on the verge of that breakdown? Why do we seek ways to cope and escape, reacting to life no differently than those who don’t claim to be a Christian?
I think I have found one reason, and it has to do with how our brain perceives the world. When we sense danger, our survival instinct kicks into action, and our split-second reaction is to do one or a combination of the following: We fight. We flee. We freeze. On any given day!
This is true whether we are a three-year-old or a 53-year-old. It is how our “brains are wired”. No wonder we are seeing so many videos of adults acting like toddlers throwing a tantrum. The reality is that when our brains perceive any form of danger, our fear and survival instincts automatically fire unless the cognitive part of our brain stays in control.
This is why we say things like, “He lost his mind” or “He flipped his lid”. That is pretty accurate! The survival part of our brain is located along the brainstem or bottom area while the cognitive portion is on top.
What is the solution?
As good Christian men and women, I can hear you answer in unison, “God.”
Since we know that God is the solution, then what is preventing us from experiencing Him and His peace?
I think we ought not ignore how God has designed us. He created us body, soul, and spirit. These three components of our self cannot be separated or can one be ignored over another without it leading to an unhealthy response to life.
God is increasing my self-awareness of how often I react to my world out of fear. When I perceive danger, I almost instantly default into patterns of self-protection. But when I react this way, I am not allowing God’s Peace to sustain me. My survival instinct is like a deterrent to God’s Peace.
How can we remove that deterrent of fear and survival that is causing us to miss out on God’s Peace?
In the adoption world, we use the term “felt safety”. In the business world, I am beginning to hear it stated as, “psychological safety”.
In order for us to not react in fear, we need to holistically feel safe. So many passages of scripture come to mind when I think about how God is our Refuge, our Strong Tower, our Shepherd, and so on. When we find ourselves safe in His presence, the outcome is His Peace. But His nature isn’t to grab us and put us in that safe place. Yet He is willing and able to be that place for us to run to where we will always find felt-safety.
3 Ways to Change Our Instinctual Response to Fear
Here are three practical ways that will help us to transform the way we respond to our fearful reaction to life. Important note: These suggestions are meant to be applied in a holistic manner rather than just one or two at a time.
- Resist the urge to isolate. God’s Word tells us a lot about the importance of spending time together in community. He even tells us to not forsake it. Of course that is very difficult right now with the pandemic. You might also not feel like spending time around people because of the raw emotions that well up inside of you when there is disagreement or lack of understanding. Yet, when we pull in and isolate, which is a form of running away (a fear response), our brains struggle on their own to regulate and get back into a “right” frame of thinking. We need to be around people who can and will encourage us with God’s truth. I have heard it said that brain science is finally catching up to God’s truth, and what happens in our brains when we are around another person who is in a good mental space is our neurons begin to copy or mirror their neurons. In other words, we begin to think like they think. And even if it is just one other person that is helping us to think with clarity, we begin to feel safer. Though you may have to remain physically distant during this time, I would encourage you to lean in somehow, some way, and pursue relational closeness.
- Pay attention to your body. Our bodies tell us a lot about how it is reacting to trauma, stress, and fear. Learning to breathe, eating good food, exercising, drinking water, applying pressure, and making time to rest (Yes! I just gave you permission to get a massage and take a nap.) are all ways to physically empower yourself toward regulation which will lead to feeling safe and full of peace.
- Redefine what it means to prioritize time with God. Again God is the ultimate answer, but many of us have lost the ability to apply this to how we react to life. Instead “time with God” has become a task that we check off of a list, if we try at all. I encourage you to step out of your western approach to prioritizing and instead of putting time with God at the top of your list or first thing you do in the morning, try prioritizing time with God in a different way. Try inviting God into every moment of your life. Allow Him to permeate every second of every day. So instead of “time with God” being the first “task” you complete each day, make time with God the most important ingredient in your day. If we can do this, then when we feel the urge to fight, flee, or freeze in reaction to pressure, difficulties, stress, fear, and so on, we have developed the discipline of immediately recognizing that we are safe in God.
I struggle right along with you as I seek peace in the midst of a cruel world that can easily overwhelm me. More times than I want to admit, I lash out with anger or bow up with self-protective pride. I seek all kinds of ways of escaping and coping in an attempt to run away, and at times \ become unresponsive and even depressed. But I invite you, almost selfishly, to join me in turning our attention, our whole selves, to the One who is our Refuge and our Peace.
I close with this passage that is often read as a blessing over us,
“May the Lord bless you and keep you; May the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”