There is an autonomous response called “fight or flight” that affects us all at certain points throughout our lives during times of crisis. If we are lucky, the level of stress that causes and accompanies this unique state of being might only happen once or twice, and occur years apart. For others, the urge to fight or to flee from a perceived threat happens much more frequently. The same torrent of hormones that raced through the veins of our ancestors in crisis mode is released into our system when we are confronted and threatened.
It makes little difference whether the stress comes from a wild beast on our heels or being stuck in a traffic jam. The urge is to do something! A “turbo boost” becomes available through our adrenal system to run faster and longer, or to fight with greater strength. When we cannot do either, we are left in a state of high anxiety with no readily available way to expend all of the extra energy. If we apply faith to the fight or flight concept, we can “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11) and fly on eagle’s wings (instead of by the seat of our pants!).
Rely on God’s Strength
The key to effective and affective prayer is to rely on God’s strength and not on our own. This is easier said than done. One of the first Bible stories I learned was the fight between David and Goliath. I was impressed as a child, and am still impressed with how God’s strength could be expressed through the weakness of a boy. Flight, as seen through the eyes of faith, can be directed toward God instead of away from trouble. The wings of prayer can lift us high above the clouds of what threatens to harm us.
Prayer during times of difficult circumstances is especially essential. While we are called to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), the prayer mode of listening is of utmost importance when we are overwhelmed in our afflictions. Once we have discerned to the best of our ability God’s voice, we can then move forward.
Prayer is the difference between decision and discernment. The former can be made quickly and without consultation, while the latter is more deliberate and is best done in collaboration. Discerning the will of God necessarily involves communication with God and others. The ever-present “fork in the road” on our journey through life involves God’s path or our path. We can allow God’s strength to work in us and through us, or we can rely on our own limited resources. Our “yoke will be easy and our burden light” when our actions proceed through faith and prayer. The burden of forgoing divine assistance in favor of self-will, while always possible, will always result in a deficiency.
“Power Made Perfect Through Weakness”
St. Paul addressed the concept of God’s strength versus our strength with a paradoxical statement: God’s “power is made perfect through weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul goes on to say that he willingly boasts of his weakness “so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” Being in a state of weakness does not come naturally to most of us, and we are reluctant to “let our guard down” when we are poised for battle. It is only when we are sure that we are making ourselves vulnerable to a God who is waiting to heal us that we can rely on His power.
One of my favorite quotes from St. Ignatius that relates to our cooperation with God is “work as though everything depends on you, and pray as though everything depends on God”. When we “offer up” our struggles, it is important to note that we are not “giving up”. We are called to do our best while allowing God to direct and give His divine assistance in the appropriate measure and timing.
In a time where stressors and stressful situations seem to be the rule rather than the exception in our lives, we can pray for the grace to move from the instinctual fight or flight response to crises to the prayerful fight and flight on eagle’s wings and on the wind of God’s grace.