She can’t talk to you like that!” I said, slamming the silverware drawer shut, the utensils rattling from the shock. “You’re the pastor!” The cupboard door closed with a bang. “How dare she speak to you that way?” I pointed a coffee mug at my husband: “You need to handle this. Immediately.”
“You’re right, honey,” he replied with equanimity. “She shouldn’t speak to me that way." And then taking me in his arms to calm me, he continued with a smile, "You’re the only woman who can talk to me like that.”
This wasn’t the first time my husband had faced a challenge in his job as the pastor of a small country church. It also wasn’t the first time I’d come out swinging. Research tells us that when human beings feel threatened, we tend to react in one of three ways: We flee, we freeze, or (like me) we fight. On the surface, fighting can give the impression of courage and power—after all, I’m not a person who’s going to be pushed around.
But what if strength wasn’t the reason I had reacted so powerfully? What if fear was actually motivating me?
True strength stems from whether or not we believe He will care for us.
Underneath my reaction was a desire to protect my husband, and by extension, protect myself and our family. But ultimately I was trusting in my own ability to keep us safe. I fought because I believed I could protect the people and things I loved. But my response also revealed that I wasn’t trusting God.
Scripture tells us that “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). True strength—the ability to respond to challenging situations with stability and love—stems from whether or not we believe He will care for us. True power comes from believing that His love will protect us.
Today, I try not to take my fear out on my cupboards (or my husband). As I sense the need to fight rise within me, I try to stop long enough to ask myself, What am I fearing? What promises do I need to remember? How has God been faithful to me even in this situation?
And as I do, I’m learning that there’s a fourth option to threatening situations: Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can stand our ground. As Christians, we must not be pushovers—we must not deny the difficulty of a situation or run away from it. But we must also not make challenging situations worse by fighting to protect ourselves. Instead we must trust God to protect us. And when we do, we will escape the flee/freeze/fight dilemma. We’ll be free to respond with "power and love and discipline"—with the courage and humble strength born of trusting Him.
Illustration by Jeff Gregory