Hide, escape. Ever since Adam & Eve hid from God in the Garden of Eden, hiding has been humanity’s default method for dealing with stress.
Stress comes in many forms: from the daily weight of tons of tiny problems that need to be solved, to the daily weight of one big problem that just won’t go away; from fractured or broken relationships, to fractured or broken dreams; from disappointment in those we love, to disappointment in ourselves. And while we may face and work through the stress, we also crave to hide and escape from it.
Hiding and escaping comes in many forms. The most dangerous forms of escape are well known: drug, alcohol, porn, and gambling addictions. The seemingly less dangerous forms of escape are harder to spot: over-indulgence in eating, shopping, sleep or entertainment. We often wink at these more socially-acceptable forms of escape, joking how we can’t live without our coffee or chocolate, or how a problem is “nothing that a little shopping won’t cure,” or how we’re obsessed with a certain TV show, game, book series, or social media platform. After all, they’re not really harmful, right? (And yes, it’s totally possible to attempt to drown your problems in the drama of other people’s Facebook posts!)
Fantasy is my Achilles heal. Probably because it is so easy for me to access. I don’t need a SIMS game, movie, TV show, or romantic novel to get lost in fantasy. All I need is my imagination. The ability to create a different world or different life is all in my head. And I can go there at any time without anyone knowing.
For most of adulthood, I thought there was nothing wrong with my overactive imagination. After all, I wasn’t viewing sleazy porn or anything like that. Yet slowly, I became convinced it wasn’t a good idea. My indulgence in fantasy required lots of time and mental energy. It robbed productive hours from my work. It robbed time from my family. It robbed my emotional energy. It robbed my creative problem-solving energy. It robbed me from being present – present to God, present to my family, and present to my work.
Also, fantasy didn’t solve anything. It didn’t satisfy me, it didn’t comfort me. My problems still remained and I had even less time and energy to deal with them. So I tried to stop. I didn’t really repent, cause I didn’t really think it was a sin. It was just a bad habit, right? Just something that wasn’t wise. So I tried to stop.
That’s when I got really convicted.
I couldn’t stop. Fantasy was just too accessible and too easy. Ever since childhood, I had used fantasy to escape stress. So my brain was well-trained to respond to stress with fantasy. Whenever I felt stress, my mind just naturally followed a neural connection to fantasy. Like a well-worn groove in a record player, my brain just followed that neural path again and again and again. I was addicted.
With the help of a counselor, I identified my triggers for fantasy: fears of failure, fears of being average; feeling overwhelmed by life’s adventure, feeling bored when life didn’t seem adventurous enough.
Understanding my triggers helped. Understanding the sources of my emotional exhaustion also helped. I learned about consolation and desolation. Consolation is the people and things that draw you closer to God. Desolation is the people and things that draw you further from God. By identifying consolation and desolation in my life, and then altering my life accordingly, I was able to reduce my stress triggers.
Practicing Sabbath also made a tremendous difference. Taking one day a week to rest and be re-energized by God had lots of benefits: improved sleep, weight loss, hormonal balance, patience with my children, creative problem-solving, optimism, and overall joy – just to name a few.
And yet, fantasy still tempted me. Even though I had reduced stress in my life and I wasn’t tempted as often, it was impossible to live completely stress-free. And whenever stress came, fantasy was waiting. So accessible, so easy to retreat to.
Ephesians 4:28 says, “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.” There is a powerful principle packed into this little verse. In this example, a person habitually responds to the stress of poverty by stealing. God wisely points out that it’s not enough to simply stop stealing. Instead, the person needs a new habit to respond to the stress of poverty, namely working hard and being generous. You see, we can’t just stop a bad habit. We must replace it with a healthy habit.
For me, I couldn’t just stop indulging in fantasy when stressed. Instead, I had to replace fantasy with a healthy response to stress. I needed God to create a new mental pathway for me.
I could just replace fantasy for another form of escape. That’s what most of us do. Even if we are able to overcome one addiction, we usually replace it with another. But I didn’t want another addiction to have power over me. So I began praying, “Lord, rewire my mental pathways so that I no longer seek escape in fantasy, but intimacy with you. I pray that I will desire intimacy with you above all others. Help me to hone in on the worship pathway.”
I wish I could say that I am completely free of escape-induced fantasy. I’m not. Escape still rears it’s ugly head from time-to-time. But the prayer, “Lord, rewire my mental pathways” has produced more positive results than anything else I’ve tried. I’m not tempted as often, nor do I indulge fantasy nearly as long as I used to. When under stress, my mind now more naturally goes to consolation – to things that increase my joy and focus on my present life with God, my family, and my work.
So whether you are trying to drown your problems in alcohol or in the drama of other people’s Facebook posts, I hope you take up this prayer, “Lord, rewire my mental pathways…” God promises to make us into a new creation. So ask Him to supernaturally renew the mental connections in your minds, producing new habits and new behaviors.
Ephesians 4:22-24 “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
What do you use to escape? What are you addicted to? How could you personalize this prayer, “Lord, rewire my mental pathways so that I no longer seek to escape in__________________, but intimacy with you.”