A bear on the loose
Years ago I was solo camping in Sequoia National Park. It was a warm evening, so I was sleeping on the ground, without a tent, when a large black bear bumbled into my campsite in search of food or water. Immediately, my heart began pounding as if it was going to jump out of my chest and run off into the woods without me. My breathing became rapid and my hands turned clammy and sweaty. My sympathetic nervous system was doing its job, getting me ready to duke it out with a bear or possibly outrun him across the mountains – he famous fight-or-flight response.
About twenty feet away, the bear abruptly turned his head and made eye contact with me, raising my alert level another notch. As he swung around and began trotting towards my prone body, which must have looked like a queer log lying on the forest floor (or maybe a carne asada burrito wrapped up in a sleeping bag tortilla), I knew the time had come to make a decision. Since running from a bear is probably the stupidest thing you could ever do, I did the only thing I thought might work: I jumped out of my bag, arms high over my head, yelling and screaming like a banshee. The startled bear stopped in his tracks and immediately ran in the opposite direction. I spent the rest of that night with a flashlight in hand, checking every crack of a twig, every crunch of a leaf, certain he was going to come back with his buddies to teach me a lesson.
My sympathetic nervous system executed its job perfectly that September night under the sequoias. But when we let stress, anxiety, worry, depression, hopelessness, and all around hyper-busyness accumulate in our lives, it’s as if there is a bear on the loose, roaming free inside our house, sitting next to us in the car, and sharing our cubicle at work. Our nerves are on high alert continuously, without a rest, anticipating the next crisis. We simply can’t live like this, at least not for very long. We have to chase the bear back into the woods.
Experience tells us that the Christian life is not exempt from trials, disappointments, and stress. If anything, we of all people are guaranteed a rough road (e.g., Psalm 34:19, John 16:33). But it doesn’t have to destroy us. A life of habit, a life of discipline, can protect our overall wellbeing. By intentionally instilling in ourselves good emotional, physical, and spiritual habits, we protect our minds, bodies, and hearts from the flaming arrows of the enemy.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans 12:2 NIV
I didn’t invite the bear into my campsite. But I also wasn’t vigilant enough to keep him out in the first place. However, once he was there, I had to deal with him. I could muster the courage to chase him off once, but there’s no way I could have lived like that every day.
You and I need to do all we can to prevent the bears of life from stalking us. But sometimes they still show up even when we’ve done everything right. The good news is that we have tools, weapons really, to fight off their attacks and live to fight another day. We don’t have to live life with a bear on the loose.
*Next week we’ll talk about some of those tools and the science that explains how and why they work.