“Terror and dread fall upon them; because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone, till your people, O LORD, pass by, till the people pass by whom you have purchased.” Exodus 15:16 ESV
Fear and terror can be numbing. We use the word “petrified” meaning turned to stone to describe that feeling of being so frightened that we can’t even move; we say we were so scared that we were frozen to the spot. Like a rabbit in the headlights, the fear overpowers us and although our only hope is to move, we simply cannot do it.
There is a phenomenon called sleep paralysis which is surprisingly common. This is where we wake during the night to find that we feel weighed down and unable to move. It is very frightening, but is a neurological paralysis caused by the body’s own self-defence mechanisms. It is put in place to stop us acting out the dreams we are having during REM and actually is quite normal. It is just frightening when it carries on over into waking. But it does pass and is usually nothing to worry about.
Likewise, the frozen reaction to fear happens for a reason. It is an age old response to overwhelming danger, the third option after the well-known “fight or flight.” If neither of these options is possible or credible, we may freeze. It is a lot like playing possum, a way of trying to convince the threat that we are not there, or not alive, or not worth chasing. Victims of violence often feel ashamed that they froze when attacked, but in actual fact, they were beyond their rational selves and only doing what the ancient survival programming was telling them to do. Sadly though, the frozen experience can become an ingrained part of the trauma.
Thank God that we serve the Lord who knows all this and made us just as we are. He understands the parts of us that need healing and knows that there are times for keeping still, things too scary to be faced, parts of ourselves and our histories we need to protect ourselves from, things that cannot be outrun. Gently he will lead us to the cure.
Like Aslan breathing warm life into the statues frozen in front of the White Witch’s palace, he comes with a gradual freedom that will enable muscles to move again; hope that will help us find the determination and courage to stretch, and an abundance of grace and mercy that as we take it in, will enable us to forgive, to begin again, to come back to life.
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