Monday, February 22, 2016

The Fight or Flight of the Bumblebees

When I was very nearly five years old, my brother and I would regularly cross the street to play with our neighbor Jimmy. On one such occasion, we were running around the house over and over again (like you do) when we stumbled into a swarm of bees. My brother and Jimmy, being several months older than I, knew to stand still; the bees were as scared of us as we were of them, and they would not attack if not provoked. I, young and stupid, had not learned that lesson. I writhed in panic as one bee made a literal beeline for my nose. Once I felt the beat of its wings on my face, I turned and ran, making a metaphorical beeline for the street, where I was promptly hit by a car.

I broke six ribs that day. Bee stings suck, but they don't suck that much.

I have, ever since, had an irrational panic associated with flying, stinging insects. I don't run into the street any more, but neither am I particularly good at feigning calm around them. Like nothing else, bees stir up in me the fight or flight response.

Fear, I understand, is a natural, biochemical thing. Fear is what we experience when we are confronted with danger. Fear attends to every risky endeavor because that's what fear is supposed to do: to remind us of risk, to prepare us for danger.

It's what we do with our fear that gets us into trouble. We fight, with the adrenaline-crazed passion of a mother bear or a wounded wolf. Or we take flight, our mind so set on the object of our fear that we fail to notice the other hazards in our path. It takes a lot of discipline to address our fear effectively, to fight fair or to fly in the right direction.

TWEET THIS: It takes a lot of discipline to address our fear effectively, to fight fair or to fly in the right direction.

A measured response to our fear, in fact, may lead us to discover that we're fighting or fleeing the wrong thing—our spouse instead of our boss, perhaps, or the wee little bee rather than the two tons of steel barreling down the street. We may even realize that we've mistaken fear for something else: anxiety, worry, insecurity, bigotry. In the face of some fear, the best response may not be to fight or flee, but to listen, to question, to nonviolently resist, to confront, to repent, to love.

We may find ourselves facing opponents or adversaries, but in most cases, our true enemy, our only enemy, the one who can cause us and those around us the most harm, is fear. We need to confront the fear before we address the thing we find ourselves fearing. We'll often see opportunity where we had formerly seen a threat - or, in the place of an enemy, a friend, or a neighbor, or a person created in the image of God - once we cast the fear out.

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