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Michelle Warner

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Learning from Mary’s Response

Posted on December 19th, 2011

Have you noticed that oftentimes you have a default response when you’re in a certain situation? It occurred to me this weekend that I do. And it’s not healthy.

As I was lying in bed a few nights ago, I stared at the ceiling, tossing and turning and hoping to fall back asleep. But try as I might, my mind would not stop racing. I prayed for God to help me discern the reason for my restlessness.

I didn’t have to look too far for the culprit; my next cancer check-up is at the end of December, just ten days away. This past week I had to make several phone calls to confirm the routine MRI and I could feel the all-too-familiar set of butterflies making their descent upon my stomach. The fears slowly inched their way back into my mind, setting up camp. What if they find a suspicious spot on the scan? What if…? What if…? What if…?

As I thought about my check-up, I realized that I have a destructive default response (in my flesh) when it comes to preparing for my upcoming check-ups: I obsess. I turn into a hypochondriac and I start “seeing ghosts,” as they say. If my hip hurts, I start fearing that I have cancer in my bones. If I have a headache, I assume I have an aneurysm that will burst any second. It’s as if I am subconsciously hunting for maladies. And let me just tell you, it produces something well short of a peaceful mind and joyful spirit.

I’ve thought about my default response enough to realize that part of the reason I do this goes back to that sneaky little word: control. You see, when I found out my tumor was cancerous, it wasn’t the most conventional way. Recall I was initially told by a nurse that the cancer was contained in my tumor that was removed. However, ten days later, my oncologist called to say there was a mistake and I would need to go through chemo. So I think in some odd way, my mind thinks that if I can figure out if I have an ailment ahead of time, then I can control it and not be shocked by the news.

Prior to my fearful thoughts descending upon me this past week, I had been really encouraged over the last few months that I haven’t had as many obsessive fears about my ailments. God has been teaching me a lot about trusting Him for my future and relaxing in my every day life. In the midst of such growth, I was disappointed to see my default response rear its ugly head. Oh, it’s you again.

Thankfully, Jared and I have been having some deep discussions as of late about various growth areas in our lives. We have particularly enjoyed listening to James MacDonald’s sermon series on how to change entitled “Lord, Change Me.” One insight he shared has been reverberating in my mind. He said that an evidence of growth in your life is not that you never slip up again but that when you do, your time in the pit isn’t as extensive or as lengthy. That thought has encouraged me that though I slipped back into my default response with respect to my upcoming MRI, I caught myself much earlier than I have before.

Maybe you can relate. Your default response probably is different than mine, but most likely you have been in a situation where you’ve thought to yourself, Why do I keep responding this way every time?

So what do we do when we realize that we are in default response mode? After reflecting and praying, below are seven action steps that came to mind.

1. Ask God for discernment about what triggers our default response. For instance, for me, I am realizing that every check-up brings to the surface all of my fears. I am learning to anticipate this flood of emotions instead of being knocked off my feet.

2. Reflect on what our default response says about our view of God. I’ve mentioned before that one of my favorite books on prayer is called The Papa Prayer by Larry Crabb. In the book he gives an acronym for prayer and the first “A” stands for “Attend to how you’re thinking about God.” Each night before I am falling asleep, I try to pray through this acronym. I admit I get a bit stuck when I get to this “A” because it requires me to pause and truly reflect on how I am viewing God in my current situation. This prayer book as well as Beth Moore’s Believing God study that I am currently doing is helping me learn to trust God for who He really is (powerful, omnipotent, unchanging…) instead of who I misperceive Him to be (uninterested, passive, domineering…).

3. Ask God for discernment about why we respond the way we do. I have been asking God to help me get to the root of my default response because if I just try to modify my behavior and never deal with the cause, this default response will persist. If I am honest with myself, I realize that the reason I respond the way I do is because I am fearful that the cancer will return. And if the cancer returns, I most likely will not be able to have my own biological children. These are very real fears and when I look at the root instead of the surface of my default response, I can invite God into those fears and work through the emotion.

4. Invite God into our fears. When we realize why we respond the way we do, I am learning how crucial it is to ask God to meet me in these fears. For me, the way this usually looks is I pour out my heart to God about my fear. For example, I probably imagined I had six different ailments this week. As each one came, my heart skipped a beat and I thought, Oh no, maybe this ache is really the worst case scenario I dread. On a good day when I am staying connected to God, I can examine that silly fear and ask God for strength to fight off the urge to take that fear for a spin down a very slippery slope. On a bad day when I am feeling bombarded by flaming arrows covered in fears, sometimes the only thing I can do is say, “Jesus, please help me. I invite you into this discouragement and need help finding truth.” Some days I just say that over and over again.

5. Replace our destructive thoughts with God’s truth. Yesterday during an anxious moment, I actually told myself, “Obsessing over this ailment isn’t going to help anything and it’s just making you crazier.” And then instead I quoted one of my favorite verses to myself: “He will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because He trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3). As I’ve written before, Beth Moore has taught me that we must do more than just refuse to think that toxic thought anymore; we must replace that thought with truth. I am trying to catch my fearful thoughts before they burrow in and instead replace them with an encouraging song or Scripture verse.

6. Give God the control over our situation. I know, it’s so much easier said than done. As I mentioned above, when I am able to find the root cause of my default response, I then am able to see what the real issue is. And from there, I must analyze who I want to be in control of the situation. Do I want to stay in control? If so, that means every time an ache arises, I will do the same default response dance and try to control my fears. How exhausting. Instead, I want God to take control of the situation. I am learning to surrender my will to His and trust Him to take care of my hopes and dreams in His way. When I focus on Him in all of His glory, I am able to take a step back from my fearful situation and realize that no matter the outcome, God is fully in control. And that brings a deep calm to my soul.

7. Ask the Holy Spirit to equip us to respond well next time. As I explained above, my default response when left to myself is to obsess. But when I ask the Holy Spirit to flood my mind and heart with His Spirit, He can help me respond in a more God-honoring way. And He can equip you too.

As I was formulating these thoughts in my mind for this blog post, Jared and I listened to James MacDonald’s Christmas sermon this weekend. (Which, by the way, was by far one of the best Christmas sermons I have ever heard. I encourage you to listen to it while wrapping presents this week!) He preached from Luke 1, the passage where Mary discovers she is pregnant. He centered in on her response, and thank goodness for us, it was not a destructive default response. But it was a Spirit-filled, eyes-on-the-Lord response.

I love Mary’s words in verse 46, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” James gave the example that a magnifying glass makes things larger, nearer, and more powerful and that was her response to her circumstance—viewing God for who He is: large, near, and powerful.  James encouraged us to “Let God become larger and our problems smaller by magnifying the Lord. God is most magnified in us when we do what would be impossible to do without Him.”

I thought focusing on Mary’s response was the perfect way to wrap up my blog post about our own default responses. James pointed out that Mary must have felt confusion and fear but as she worked through her emotions, she camped out who God was and chose to magnify Him in her situation. This Christmas as we reflect on Mary’s response, may we learn from her example as well.

***

As I was writing this, I couldn’t get Chris Tomlin’s song, “My Soul Magnifies the Lord,” from his Christmas CD out of my head. Here are the lyrics:

My Soul Magnifies the Lord

Good news of great joy
For every woman, every man
This will be a sign to you
A baby born in Bethlehem

Come and worship
Do not be afraid

A company of angels
Glory in the highest
And on the earth peace among
Those of whom His favor rests

Oh, come and worship
Do not be afraid, no, no

My soul, my soul magnifies the Lord
My soul magnifies the Lord
He has done great things for me
Great things for me

Unto you a child is born
Unto us a Son is given
Let every heart prepare His throne
And every nation under Heaven

Come and worship
Do not be afraid, no, no

My soul, my soul magnifies the Lord
My soul magnifies the Lord
He has done great things for me
Great things for me

My soul, my soul magnifies the Lord
My soul magnifies the Lord
He has done great things for me
Great things for me

Of His government there will be no end
He’ll establish it with His righteousness
And He shall reign on David’s throne
And His name shall be from this day on

Wonderful, Counselor, Everlasting Father
Wonderful, Counselor
His name shall be Everlasting Father

My soul, my soul magnifies the Lord
My soul, my soul magnifies the Lord

He has done great things for us
He has done great things for us
He has done great things for us
He has done great things for us

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