Why is it that when something becomes a little difficult or a challenge is put before us that we feel the instant urge to run or flee?
Instead of allowing ourselves to feel a bit uncomfortable in what is happening, we want to seek out what is familiar and appears safe, and we immediately decide that this is the direction to take. Sadly, the repercussions of these decisions are oftentimes lost relationships, lost careers, lost family, lost identity and lost will.
Biologically speaking, this is the “fight or flight” inborn mechanism that triggers our brain, and the brain of nearly every creature created, to leave behind what might cause us wounds, harm or even death. Inevitably, most will flee; and unfortunately, few will fight.
So, I am wondering if this should also apply to other things? When it comes to the heart and to love, and to our faith and our soul, are we supposed to run away from that which is painful or uncomfortable? If we are always running, how can we expect to grow? If we are always fleeing, how can we expect to become the person we are called to be by always seeking what is familiar and safe?
Loving is painful. Living our lives as children of God is painful. There are wounds that come from words, behaviors, actions and written messages — from those around us and in those who are in our lives each and every day. Oftentimes, these painful things come from those we love the most. In most cases, the intention was not to hurt, but because we are humans and we have emotions they do, and they often do with a vengeance.
The last I noticed, we do not have the full metal body armor like those in medieval times or the head-to-toe leather suits of Huns from ancient China to wear and protect us. I do not even know how people moved around with all of that weight they were carrying! Personally though, after a round of feeling deeply wounded by something someone may have said, I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have a hard outer shell like a turtle or the crunchy exoskeleton of a beetle.
If you think about it, these creatures and people can’t run away, at least not quickly, so maybe they have something there!
Truthfully, because of these times of hurt, instead of these suits or shells, we build “walls” around us that we hope will keep us safe from harm. This is a form of armor, a protection, a shield, a barrier that can make us unapproachable, unwelcoming and unloving to all we come into contact with. These walls we build for protection are easily transportable — not like the metal armor, leather or exoskeletons mentioned before — and allow us to run fast and far away, to flee from anything or anyone that might inflict injury on us.
But wait, didn’t I just say that loving is painful? That living our lives as children of God is painful?
I am not asking you literally to stand up and fight to defend your heart, your faith and your soul, though sometimes we might need to do just that. Thankfully, if we did, we wouldn’t be alone since many have done just that before us through many years and many circumstances.
What I am asking you to consider though is to remove the walls, the armor, the protection, the shield, the barrier that may be holding you back from loving and being loved. Don’t be afraid of the pain. Don’t be afraid of the hurt. Don’t be afraid to stay and fight. I am hoping that by not running or fleeing when the going gets tough, that we can be healed and become whole and better able to commit ourselves and our lives to the people around us and to the world that God has created for us.
Elizabeth Neville is director of the St. Cloud Mission Office.