Coping Series: The Freeze Response
“And He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will. ” He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.” And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’”(Mark 14:32-36, NKJV)
Finding ourselves in the freeze response can be nerve-wracking. Usually, when we reach this place in our lives, it’s at a breaking point. For Christ, being in Gethsemane alone with Peter, James, and John, He was faced with this burdensome process of 'freeze'. As Jesus shows, this process has two steps. The first thing we can be faced with is the decision to accept our current reality or fall into dissociation. After, we must decide how to operate in cognitive dissonance.
I know, I’m getting a little science-y, so let me break it down for you. Dissonance is the term used for how we challenge opposing thoughts in everyday life. It can be a helpful rationalizer at best or a devastating excuse for our sin at worst. This is the second half of the freeze response because, by using cognitive dissonance, we have to take time away from outside influences and find the Lord’s truth for us.
In doing so, we then genuinely ask God what he is saying, and after, ask ourselves how serious we are about surrender. These two actions can be some of the most emotionally taxing moments in our lives. When we find ourselves in these moments, we must remember the true Supplier that our Lord is. When we cannot see what’s coming next and find our vision is clouded, remember that “The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord…” (Proverbs 20:27, KJV).
In comparison to Jesus, we are but a candle: We produce very little light on our own – but we still produce light. And the wonderful thing about God is that we can put our hope in Jesus to be our great light in the midst of darkness; our strength in the midst of weakness: “For our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:29, KJV)
Coping with the freeze response can easily go wrong. In my experience, my ‘freeze’ has been complete emotional shutdown. I used to force myself to go emotionally numb. I became unavailable for anyone to connect with simply because there was nothing there. I experienced whatever tragedy, and out of immediate fear, I let myself implode. The Spirit of God felt non-existent, and over time my heart was like a cinder block. Freeze can be the most dangerous of the responses because it lets you fall and be okay with falling. And yet, God is so big, full of grace and mercy, and SO loving, that it only took one encounter with the Holy Spirit to bring me back. Now, when I want to freeze, I remember what Christ did in Gethsemane: He stopped everything and prayed. I don’t let fear grip me in the paralyzing ways that it has before; “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear…” (1 John 4:18, KJV)
Jesus shows us how he used the freeze response in the Garden of Gethsemane. He halted everything to pray. There was no movement, only conversation with the Father. The cross was nigh, and Christ knew the terror to come. He was at war with knowing the destruction of his human body, but He overcame. He initiates the first step in ‘Freeze’ by accepting the will of the Father, and not dissociating.
He didn’t ignore reality; He didn’t drown himself in anything else except the presence of the Father in prayer. Christ endured the deep, gut-wrenching, throat-ripping pain that we feel. He was so emotionally burdened that He literally fell to the ground under its weight, but he knew what to do next. The dissonance for Christ is when he rose up in prayer, stabilizing himself in his three confidants Peter, James, and John, and pressed through the pain. He made no excuses out of it. He was alone, secluded, frozen to what was around Him, and He prayed. This– this is how to cope through 'freeze'.
Through all of the trials, we experience in our lives, coping through freeze has instead become the most powerful and positive way to cope because it drives us to seek God recklessly. So I challenge you, the next time life hits and you find yourself frozen, pray. You will find, as I have, that a freeze response can set the stage for personal miracles.
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