Did you know that you have a built-in alert system inside your soul?
Yep. God designed you with a sophisticated, state-of-the-art system to alert you to danger in your environment. It’s your nervous system, which impacts your emotions, your thoughts, and nearly every decision you make. This whole system works together to help you keep yourself safe.
The problem is that most of us do not know how to harness the power of this system effectively. In fact most of us have been taught one of the following extremes—often without even realizing it:
- Override the system all together
- Stay on high alert all the time
We’ll get more into high alert next week. For today, we’ll focus on what it looks like to override the system all together.
Overriding Your Inner Alert System
Here are two examples of what it looks like when we override our Inner Alert System:
Example 1. You are getting to know a new woman in your community. Something about the conversation leaves you feeling cold and uncomfortable. You’re not sure why, but you give her the benefit of the doubt, telling yourself, Maybe I’m being too sensitive. You override your system and work really hard to earn her affection. You go out of your way to be nice to her and always try to include her in your gatherings. But she stays aloof and distant with you, even as she laughs and talks warmly with mutual friends. Over time, you grow increasingly frustrated. You start to question yourself: What’s wrong with me? Why doesn’t she like me, when she seems to get along so well with everyone else?
Example 2. You’re dating again, and it’s been awhile. Initially, he is amazing, lavishing you with attention. He sends flowers, takes you out to fancy dinners, and constantly expresses affection. It feels good, but also a bit overwhelming. You shove that feeling aside, telling yourself, Just enjoy it for once. He’s being nice. Over time you notice he’s getting possessive. He doesn’t like it when you spend time with your friends without him. He might even get angry and question your loyalty. You don’t want to lose him. You’re confused. But you tell yourself, He’s been so good to me. Shouldn’t I do what he’s asking?
In both of these scenarios, your Inner Alert System sent signals. You felt
But in both examples, you overrode those signals. You rationalized the other person’s behavior. You gave them the benefit of the doubt. You operated out of well-intended empathy and loyalty.
The problem is this: Giving other people the benefit of the doubt is a wonderful quality. . . after they have earned your trust. It’s not always helpful when you’re first getting to know someone.
Instead, imagine if you learned to reclaim your Inner Alert System? What if you could honor the cues that your body sends and allow them to guide you into healthier decisions?
This process of learning to honor your Inner Alert System is what the Bible calls discernment. It involves your body, mind, emotions, and God’s Spirit. When your Internal Alert System isn’t working quite right, you miss out on an incredible resource God’s given you.
Problems with the Inner Alert System
Whenever you enter into any new situation: a new friendship, faith community, neighborhood, work environment, or dating relationship, you need discernment. And a big part of discernment is learning to listen to and guide this incredible Inner Alert System God gave you.
Discernment, simply put, is the ability to gauge a situation well.
But often this system isn’t working quite right.
Maybe no one taught you how to use it. You know how to pray. But you had no idea how your very own design works hand-in-hand with those prayers.
Or, if you’ve experienced trauma, you may have learned to turn your internal signals off as a way to survive. When someone who was supposed to care for you, hurt you, you learned to rationalize their behavior without even realizing it. You learn to override the “Danger” cues your body is giving you.
On the other hand, trauma can also cause the signals your body is sending you to intensify. You sense danger around every corner, because you don’t know how to discern who to trust.
The good news is that you can heal your Inner Alert System. You can learn to get it working as it should. You can learn to notice the cues your body is sending you, evaluate them, and adjust your response. And what’s even more beautiful, is that you do this work in partnership with the loving, wise presence of the Spirit of God!
Honoring Your Inner Alert System
We’ll get into the details of how to heal and harness the power of this internal system in weeks to come, but for now, let’s revisit the two examples above. Imagine your Inner Alert System is working as it should. Here’s what that might look like:
Example 1. You are getting to know a new woman in your community. Something about the conversation leaves you feeling cold and rejected. You’re not sure why, so you decide to get curious. You begin to ask yourself:
- What behaviors are happening that illicit the feeling of coldness or rejection?
- Does this happen consistently through every interaction (vs. a one-time occurrence)?
- Are there extenuating circumstances (e.g. is she going through something unrelated to you?)
- When have you felt this way in the past?
As you observe the behaviors, you continue to be polite, but you also stay at arm’s length. You’re not sure this is a safe person yet. You don’t react angrily, judge her, or gossip about her. You simply get curious. You ask God for wisdom. You take your time to discern the situation and how to respond to it.
Example 2. You’re dating again, and it’s been awhile. Initially, he is amazing, lavishing you with attention. He sends flowers, takes you out to fancy dinners, and constantly expresses affection. It feels good, but you feel overwhelmed by the fast pace. You decide to test the situation. You set up a fun weekend for yourself with your girlfriends. You let him know that you won’t be available for a few days, and you pay careful attention to how he responds:
- Does he respect your decision?
- Does he show genuine interest in your pursuing other aspects of your life apart from him?
- Can he give you space?
- Do you notice any “punishment” or “retaliation” upon your return?
You continue to create strategic opportunities for him to reveal his true character. Does he rise to the occasion, showing support, kindness, and respect for all of who you are? Can he communicate about his needs or desires without lashing out at you? Or does he show anger, play games, or attempt to control you? It will be disappointing to find out that he isn’t who you hoped he might be, but you also know that it is so much better to discover the truth now.
Learning how to pay attention to the cues that your body is giving you is a process, not a one-time event. Stick with me, as we unpack more of how to do this work over the coming weeks!