Every perceived threat elicits some sort of response. This is one of the most primal rules of nature. My husband often jokes that my primary means of self-defense is to “roly-poly”. For the most part he is right. I’m not a fighter. When it comes down to the fight or flight instinct my go-to response usually errs on the side of fleeing. And if for some reason I’m not in the position to run, then I’m likely to just play dead. I’ll do just about anything to avoid a fight. A pitiful example of this happened the other day when our 3 boys called me out to see a “snake” they found in the yard. I was working in the kitchen and decided to take a break from dinner prep to humor them. I put my work down and walked out to inspect whatever it was that they mistakenly thought was a snake (this wasn’t the first time they had run this ruse). You can imagine my displeasure when I leaned in with them real close into the base of the bushes only to see an actual, real, living snake. My survival instinct kicked in (to the detriment of my maternal instinct apparently) – I screamed that high pitched girly-scream and ran back into the house as fast as I could, leaving my 3 young children behind, yelling over my shoulder as I left for them to “run, run, get back, don’t touch!”
Yeah, I’m definitely a flee-er.
Whether your most natural response is to take flight or to put up a fight, there’s something instinctual rooted deep down in each of us to preserve ourselves. To save ourselves. To defend ourselves from danger. And while that might be all well and good out there in the animal kingdom, where it’s kill or be killed, how does that work itself out over here in civilization? When it’s not likely our lives that are in danger, but our pride? Or our self-image? Or our personal rights?
Now that’s a good question. A very relevant question for me. Over the last several months, I’ve been put in the position over and over again where I’ve felt the need to defend myself. My feelings have been hurt, my voice has not been heard, I have been mis-understood and mis-interpreted and mis-represented. Time and again I have felt forced into a corner so that the only choice I had was to protect myself. I held my arms up in front of my face, boxer-style, so as to avoid further injury and I began thinking about what moves I should make in return. How should I strike back? Maybe a quick kick by way of questioning the offender’s motives. Or how about a sharp jab to their failings. Maybe a unsuspecting punch to one of their insecurities. I had to respond in some way to the person threatening me because if I didn’t strike back I was afraid that they were going to beat me down. In each situation my gut-instinct was to fight back, to self-preserve, to seek retaliation.
Why is it that my gut-instinct so often contradicts God’s Word?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… Matthew 5:38-44
Ugh. Jesus was constantly saying things that cut against the grain of human instinct.
But the thing about Jesus was that these weren’t just things He said, they were things He lived. He was constantly turning the other cheek, giving up his rights, and allowing people their misconceptions regarding who He was and what his motives were. And in these last few months, the Lord has prompted me to seek to preserve just about everything except myself…
He’s asked me to give up my right to be heard in the hopes of saving a relationship.
He’s asked me abandon my advice, my opinion and my critique of another so that I might encourage them instead.
He’s asked me to forgo my witty and well crafted retort in favor of just really listening.
He’s asked me to respond with love and compassion when all I’ve wanted to do was lash out.
He’s asked me to engage when I’ve wanted to withdraw.
The message has so surely and steadily built upon itself that I don’t dare miss it – seek only to preserve yourself and you’ll surely destroy everything else. I get it.
What good is being the last man standing if you’re all alone once the fight is done?
With Thanksgiving just two days away, I doubt I’m the only one preparing to enter the battlefield this Thursday. Family relations have grown increasingly tense as the time to give thanks has drawn near. No doubt feelings will be hurt, criticisms will be offered, sharp remarks will be made and those primal instincts for me to come out fighting will kick in. Nonetheless, the Lord has asked me to put down my weapons and trust Him to be my shield. To offer patience, grace and forgiveness – yes, again. To set my eyes on the good work He accomplished when He gave up his instinct of self-presevation. And to pray that maybe in losing myself, perhaps someone else may be found.