I am deathly afraid of snakes. Go ahead and laugh. You’re deathly afraid of something too. My fear of snakes is probably funny for any observer though because that fear causes me to react in some really funny ways.
I remember the time I was helping my dad clean up his back yard and we were moving a pile of brush and when I reached down to pick up an arm load of sticks a large snake came up with it in my hands and I reacted. I freaked out, threw the arm load of sticks and the snake as far as I could, ran through the fence on both sides of my dad’s garden (yes I ran through the fence not over it) and then I proceeded to run around screaming like a little girl who’d just seen a monster in her closet. I’m afraid of snakes therefore I react in some funny ways.
I also remember the time I was sitting in my basement getting kids ready for school and one of my daughters saw a snake in our basement window sill behind our couch next to the chair I was sitting in. She screamed “SNAKE” at the top of her lungs and I reacted. I bolted out of my chair and went running down our hallway to the the stairs that would lead me to the safety of the upper level of our home. I’m afraid of snakes therefore I react in some funny ways.
But here’s the kicker. As I was running down the hallway to the safety of the stairs (from the presence of the snake that was literally the size and length of a #2 pencil) one of my other daughters was walking casually down the hallway and in my hasty reaction I pushed right past her and incidentally shoved her into the wall of our hallway.
I actually pushed her so hard that she went right through the drywall between two studs. There’s probably still a body sized hole in the wall of that old home. Thankfully she was fine. In fact I think she was probably more annoyed with me because that daughter isn’t afraid of snakes at all. I’m afraid of snakes therefore I react in some funny ways but I also react in some destructive ways… hence the hole in the wall and the annoyed daughter.
We all struggle with knee-jerk reactions. But sometimes reaction is neither funny nor destructive. Sometimes it’s serious and healthy. For instance, when I observe a man abusing a woman in the street and I fear for her safety so I step in and confront the man and rescue the woman, then I am reacting in a serious and healthy way.
Or when I see a child in my neighborhood run into the street in front of a car and I immediately feel afraid for the child’s life so I react by running into the street yelling for the child to get out of the street and even go so far as grabbing the child and carrying him back to the safety of the yard, then I am reacting in a serious and healthy way.
I grew up in a family where worry and fear were the minute by minute emotional diet. Anxiety ran rampant. Some days it was like reaction to reaction to reaction until the entire family atmosphere was loaded like an emotional time-bomb. This kind of reactivity was not funny it was destructive.
My family environment wasn’t always like this. We love music so there was always something playing on a radio or through some speakers. And when our favorite song came on we would react by cranking the radio and dancing around like fools. This kind of reactivity was not destructive it was funny.
We raised tons of livestock when I was a kid. We had everything from horses to chickens to salamanders to peacocks to ducks to geese and everything else in between. My mom slept with a 22 caliber six shooter under her pillow and I had a shotgun in the corner of my room.
We always kept a bedroom window slightly cracked so we could hear the noises of our animals overnight. When the hen house or the horses went crazy we reacted by grabbing the guns and shooting any predator that tried to cause harm. This kind of reactivity was not funny or destructive it was serious and healthy.
Why is this important to parse out? Why am I thinking about reactivity from all these different angles? Here are a few reasons:
Reactivity affects the culture. Just look at all the social media arguments reacting back and forth. It’s as though our culture is stuck in an endless cycle of reacting to reaction.
Reactivity affects real people. Sit down with one married couple who is arguing back and forth, reacting to each other’s reactivity, and observe the pain they are inflicting and take a look at their kids’ faces and you wont miss this truth. It will be etched on the eyes of your heart.
Reactivity begins inside each individual. We want to blame others for our knee-jerk reactions but the truth is we are fueled not by things outside of us but by the things inside of us. Fear, loneliness, anger, worry, doubt, despair, etc. This is what’s in the heart and soul of every individual person and these inner desires are what fuels our reactions.
Here’s an interesting note to make. God doesn’t react. God isn’t caught off guard. God knows everything and he sees everything. God is a responder not a reacter. Everything God does has been carefully planned. Think about the implications of that for a moment. Every single thing from the most horrific events to the most happy days have been planned by God. This is hard to wrestle with. I have a certain reaction to this. It’s called unbelief. I struggle with believing this weighty truth of God’s glory.
I think I could go to many places in the Scriptures and see these truths but I think it’s the most clear in the cross and the empty tomb of Christ. Jesus was completely innocent. This is something that no other human can claim. Jesus was abused and tortured in some of the most horrific ways. This is something that many other humans can claim. Jesus rose from the dead three days later, leaving the tomb empty and he ascended to Heaven to prepare a place for people who trust in him. This is something that no other human can do.
And here’s the kicker. Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t a surprise to God the Father. This horrific event didn’t cause God to be afraid and it didn’t catch him off guard. This experience didn’t get a reaction out of God. He planned this entire horrific and glorious event before the foundations of the world were made into a blueprint. This truth, commonly and gloriously called the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ, changes the way I think about my struggle with reactivity.
This leads me to five short thoughts:
- I definitely want to respond slowly and thoughtfully instead of reacting automatically or quickly.
- I want to live within the healthy boundaries of spiritual, emotional and physical presence instead of reacting by consistently crossing or eroding boundaries.
- I want to live out of a place of peaceful restfulness instead of reacting by exaggerating extremely and emotionally.
- I want to spontaneously have fun instead of reacting and losing the ability to be playful.
- I want to become more imaginative and more energized, and resist the temptation to give into reactivity by just “going through the motions” of reacting to reactivity.
But why? Why do I want this? If I want to be a better version of me then this is merely more self-help principles and self-help is doomed from the start because the broken reactionary version of me cannot help me become less broken or less reactionary. I need someone who is unbroken and isn’t given over to reactionary responses to help me become someone who isn’t reactionary.
This is the beauty of the gospel because Jesus helps me become a new person. But why? Does he do that so that I can become a better version of me? I don’t think so. I think Jesus makes me a new person so that God the Father becomes famous in all of his weighty glory.
This weighty glory of God is revealed as he helps me become a person who loves people. A person who rests in the joy of the gospel. A person who lives in peaceful reliance upon him. A person who practices patience in the journey of faith. A person who exhibits kindness towards people. A person who bubbles over with the good presence of the Spirit. A person who walks in a faithful and trustworthy manner. A person who speaks and behaves gently. A person who rests in the presence of Spirit-lead self-control.
In other words, God is helping me become a new person who isn’t characterized by my natural bent towards reactivity. God is helping me to become a person who is characterized by the fruit of the Spirit. And he doesn’t do this work in me so that I can become a better person. He does this work in me so that my life would point to him in my newfound ability to live obediently in the shadow of my heavenly Father.