What it looks like—
Sitting home alone in your living room… suddenly you hear an urgent warning on the television. A ferociously large tornado is rapidly heading toward your city. A twinge of fear passes through you. I thought the forecast said it was going to be sunny today, you think. You glance out the front window and notice the sky turning dark. Swirling clouds form before your eyes. Branches on your trees begin shaking violently. Fear grows but so does your sense of helplessness. You have nowhere to go. Your house has no basement. You search the room, almost expecting an answer to fall from heaven. You hear your neighborhood alarm sounding. Your fear grows and your heart races. You breathe rapidly, palms become sweaty and your mind floods with pictures of tornados and their devastation. You try to think of what to do next but nothing comes. You feel helpless. Your stomach squeezes into a knot, you swallow hard. Memories of past tornado devastation flash through your mind.
Suddenly the phone rings, jerking you from your trance and disrupting your mind. Your body is energized and shaky. You quickly leap to answer the phone before the second ring. You recognize your neighbor yelling and screaming jumbled words about a tornado approaching your house. Suddenly the phone goes dead. Time is running out. You can’t reach help. You can’t escape. A sense of hopeless despair floods in converting your terror into DREAD. You throw the phone down and clutch your head. Panic overwhelms you. Terror surges! You want to call your loved ones and warn them what is happening but you can’t. Hopelessness surges. You want them to pray. There is no basement to run to, or shelter to hide in. This feels hopeless. Time is not on your side. Hopeless despair grows. You feel frozen. The door shakes, the windows make a cracking sound and you hear what sounds like thunder getting louder and louder. Terror rushes through your veins. Like water slipping away down the drain, the sense of imminent danger (terror) and seeing no way out (hopeless despair) locks you up in dread. It paralyzes you.
Though this scenario is fictional, you can easily picture and imagine your words, actions, and responses. You visualize the events and anticipate your decisions. You think about your options, how you would act under such a stressful situation. You estimate how you would respond. Most recognize this familiar pain and feel despair and fear, even as you ponder the above situation. You cringe as you imagine feeling this way for an extended period of time. The internal agony of so much turmoil leaves you bewildered and disoriented.
What dread is and what it does to you—
Dread is a combination of terror and hopeless despair. Though you may not recognize dread when it hits, you may be familiar with its horrible sensations. Dread intrudes upon your thoughts and disrupts your peace. Dread envelops your outlook and easily transforms your perspective. Dread takes a toll on your health, work, family, and relationships. Dread leaves you weary, restless, and irritable.
Unless you grew up with plenty of practice returning to joy from terror and hopeless despair, you will not fare well with dread and would rather avoid the feeling altogether. It is a suffocating cloak, easy to put on and hard to remove.
A deer caught in the headlights
This toxic combination causes a deer caught in the headlights physical response. It is similar to the engine of a car that has the accelerator and brake pressed at the same time. The consequence, if not immediate, will be wear and tear on your nervous system.
Terror, a sympathetic response, energizes you. It produces a decrease in serotonin and raises your dopamine levels. The means your ability to self-quiet and calm diminishes. Your state becomes attentive and watchful. A steady flow of adrenaline into your bloodstream gives you energy. Your heart races; you breathe short, quick breaths, your pupils dilate and you begin to problem solve.
Hopeless despair, the parasympathetic response, drains you of energy. is You lack hope and lose motivation. You want to hide, shrink and sleep. Depression sucks the life out of you. Dopamine levels drop and serotonin levels rise. A constant release of adrenaline and cortisol without a change in your environment or a release by your body causes trouble. Hopeless despair is your inability to see a way out of a situation or circumstance. Even the thought of a dreadful scenario, which replays in your mind, can produce a physical reaction, as if it were happening at that moment. Psychological distress generates body signals, urgent warnings of problems and disturbances.
How much damage does an engine sustain when you press the accelerator and brake? Imagine if the above tornado illustration was going to happen the next week, and then the following week, week after week! Would you be able to rest, be still, and have peace knowing you are a few days away from another disaster? How would you cope? Hopefully, you would have plenty of practice and training to be yourselves and suffer well rather than become traumatized. Hopefully you would rely on a large God for such a large problem. Unless you practice, train and utilize your resources distressing situations prove challenging and debilitating.
Where do you see dread in the bible?
How about when Saul and his army stood in battle array before the Philistines? Unexpectedly a huge, powerful giant-man named Goliath appears sporting a hefty shield, sword, and spear. He arrogantly confronts and mocks the Israelites. This overwhelmingly adversary triggers enormous panic among the army of Israel. They frantically problem solve and flee.1 Next, the soldiers regroup and strategize. You almost feel their alarm and fright upon Goliath’s appearance, then their gloom and despair at the bleak circumstances. The army struggles with despair. What will happen next?
Imagine their racing thoughts, “Who will go out and face this giant? Who is the brave soul to fix and put an end to this mess?” Dread consumes them and they wait. Thankfully one young shepherd named David had some experience (and faith) in this area. David, acting like himself, quickly volunteered and overcame with the help of Israel’s God. David had plenty of experience fighting lions and bears.2 We hypothesize that David had much training tackling his terror, overcoming his hopeless despair, and returning to joy. God’s faithfulness brings about a victory through David as he conquers the giant and returns Israel to joy.
You can handle dread like a winner when you practice and train with those who are experienced. You triumph over dread when you grow up with parents who know who they are and act like themselves when they feel afraid or hopeless. Capable trainers are those who stay relational while they experience the specific emotion. You learn to avoid emotions when mom and dad forget who they are when afraid or hopeless. Possibly you will sidetrack to other emotions. This occurs when you jump to another emotion rather than stay in the specific emotion of terror or despair. Men usually experience intense anger and rage when afraid while women may experience sadness. If you can’t handle one emotion, surely two of them simultaneously disable you at the most and hinder you at the least. You hit your desired target when you return to joy from dread.
What you can do about it–
You resolve the dread dilemma when you find an experienced partner. A qualified companion is one who is available to spend time with and teach you how to act like yourself amidst distress. Practice and training allows you to become a capable “sufferer” who can handle fear and despair among other emotions and not be traumatized. You find hope and relief when dread no longer consumes you. This means you do not panic and fret when a tornado approaches or a giant stands before you. Rather, you find yourself actively on your knees praying or putting stones in your pouch rather than reacting. You find liberation when you stay relational during distress and act like yourself. You may even hear God speak, as He spoke to a man named Job out from the whirlwind!
1 – 1 Samuel 17:24
2 – 1 Samuel 17:34 +
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May your JOY be full,
Chris & Carol
Chris Coursey, MA Theology – Author, Speaker and Thrive Trainer, www.thrivetoday.org
Twitter – @coursey_chris
Carol A. Brown, Author of The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive www.fromgodsheart.com
Carol’s email – email@example.com