God created our bodies with an in-built response to frightening situations. When we become aware of danger, we go into a survival mode. In this mode, our thinking becomes very basic: for example, we might stay and fight or turn around and run away.
This is the classic “fight or flight” response we have all experienced; we could also add “freeze” to the list. When a person often gets stuck in this mode during times which aren’t actually dangerous, this might mean the person struggles with anxiety of some kind.
When experiencing “fight or flight,” we find ourselves not thinking deeply or thoughtfully. Our typical ability to empathize with others or reflect on the wisest course of action gets traded in for one overriding concern: survival. In order to be able to think thoughtfully and empathetically, we have to calm down.
“Our typical ability to empathize with others or reflect on the wisest course of action gets traded in for one overriding concern: survival.”
This fight-or-flight mode isn’t a bad parable for the default way a lot of us go throughout most days. Often, we’re just busy trying to survive another day. We can perceive threats to our comfort or success in the form of inconvenient interruptions, workplace competition, or stressful busyness. As long as we are preoccupied with just trying to make it through the day, then we’re going to function in a very basic, almost survival, mode. And our ability to relate to people empathetically or reflect on situations wisely will be crippled.
That’s why these short prayers we’ve been talking about are so important. If you pray for God to open your eyes so that you can see God as God, see sin as sinful, and see grace as amazing, these steps will calm you down to where you can pursue wisdom in situations and empathy toward others.
Take grace, for example. If your eyes are truly open to how amazing God’s grace for you is, think about how much of a calming effect that can have on your otherwise stressful, survival-mode way of living. A life fueled by God’s grace walks in peace as it receives forgiveness and enjoys its new identity as a beloved child of God. The grace-based life lives in gratitude for the past and anticipation of heaven.
“If your eyes are truly open to how amazing God’s grace for you is, think about how much of a calming effect that can have on your otherwise stressful, survival-mode way of living.”
If that’s you, then you are freed up to really live.
Forgiven people are freed up to forgive. People at peace are able to walk in gratitude and security. In the same way as we are loved, we are freed up to love others in hundreds of creative ways.
As God opens your eyes to how amazing His grace is for you, you are able to look up from your stressing and scurrying and actually see people. You can see in them the insecurities you’ve had and offer them the confidence you needed. You can see in them the discouragement you’ve felt and offer them encouragement. You can see in them the need for gentle wisdom that you could have used when you were in their situation.
You can look up and see opportunities to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Grace calms us from our default fight-or-flight mode of surviving the day so we can see others as ourselves.
“As God opens your eyes to how amazing His grace is for you, you are able to look up from your stressing and scurrying and actually see people.”
That’s why the fourth and final prayer of this series is to ask God to open our eyes so that we can see other people as ourselves. It’s not as though we didn’t already know Jesus’ Golden Rule: to treat others the way we want to be treated. But the survival mode we often get locked in blurs our ability to really see others in the first place.
So, how can we cultivate the sacrificial love which is supposed to characterize us as Christians? Please pray and continue to pray these four short prayers with me:
Open my eyes so that I might see others as myself.