In our lives, we all face serious challenges: some internal, some external, and some that are overwhelming. The way we initially react to a challenge, according to many psychologists, seems to be pre-programmed in us. They call it the “fight-flight-freeze response.” Some of us, when faced with a figurative mountain to climb, will flee from the prospect, and seek a safe and familiar place for retreat. Others will attack it over-zealously, burning out all our reserves too soon. Still others stand frozen, unable to act at all.
I was speaking with the United Campus Ministry pastor at my university last week, talking about students I have met who seem just on the verge of success, but then who inexplicably drop out of college to chase what looks from my perspective like a less desirable goal. She reminded me about the fight-flight-freeze theory and told me that she had similar concern about a relative of hers who, when faced with a difficult class, will attempt to do all of the semester’s work in a week. Then, because she was unprepared for the test, would fail. She didn’t take the time to allow the class to unfold at its appropriate rate.
I think that I exhibited a mixture of freeze and flight when I was a young student. If I was not immediately performing in a class better than all my classmates, I would drop out of it. I wasn’t interested in gaining the knowledge in order to build my knowledge, wisdom, or character. I just wanted to prove I was the best at whatever I attempted. Failures sent me running back to familiar comforts – most of which were not good or safe for me.
Failure shouldn’t be seen as failure. We need to learn a mediated response to challenges so that we accept them as difficult enough that just the attempt at overcoming them is a success. The failure is in the unreasonable response: running away out of fear of failing, flailing wildly with no focus or direction, or just standing frozen and unable to take a step toward or away. Success is in meeting the challenge head-on, introducing ourselves to it, respecting it, and then acting upon it with wisdom and self-confidence.
Where can we find the self-confidence to act so wisely, though, if our unreasoned response comes from a lack of faith in ourselves? God tells us that we don’t need to have faith in ourselves. We only need to have faith in Him. Trust Him to make our approach effective. If we are listening carefully to His will, obeying His commandments for our lives, and acting as His light in this world, He will take care of the details.
I find comfort in Isiah 41:10 where the words of God address Israel, saying
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
By the power of Jesus Christ, I – sinner, gentile, 2000+ years later – have been called to be in that group of servants of God. My biggest responsibility is to have complete faith and trust in my Lord that He is in control. That must be the most difficult lesson to learn in the entirety of living a Christian life. But, I can attest to it. Look at this passage from Matthew 6:34. It is a familiar one.
So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Sure, I do my homework ahead of time. I am taking seven classes and teaching one in addition to my church activities, time for my family, and time for my boyfriend. I make plans. I’m scouting out graduate schools and applying for fellowships and research opportunities. But, that’s not worrying. That’s following God’s will. I did not fret about when to begin doing all these things. God placed them all in my path at just the proper time. He knows exactly what He is doing. We must trust Him. When we do, our fulfillment is great indeed.
A reader wrote to me recently that he felt my “success was assured.” I agree. In God, my success is God’s success. When I follow His will and trust Him, I am living most closely in line with what I was created to do. The harmony in that position is awesome. I encourage you to try just a little each day. Turn on the Christian rock station in your car. Pick up your bible and read a verse or two. Spend some time talking with the Lord, asking Him to help you trust Him. It’s all He wants. He’s waiting right now, eager to hear you call out to Him. He loves you more than you could ever know.