Alter Avoid Accept Adapt

Psalm 59:14-17 (New Living Translation)
My enemies come out at night, snarling like vicious dogs as they prowl the streets. They scavenge for food but go to sleep unsatisfied. But as for me, I will sing about your power. Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love. For you have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress. O my Strength, to you I sing praises, for you, O God, are my refuge, the God who shows me unfailing love.

The book of psalms is like a hymnal — a book filled with worship songs. At the top of many of the individual psalms, there are directions or explanations. Today’s psalm has this direction: “For the choir director: A psalm of David, regarding the time Saul sent soldiers to watch David’s house in order to kill him. To be sung to the tune ‘Do Not Destroy!’”

Back in the late 1980s, I heard a motivational speaker talk about four responses to stress in our lives: alter, avoid, accept, or adapt.* All of these responses are completely normal, and all have a potential positive and negative side.

Responses to Stress

At other points in his story, David will use all four of the responses. But here David can’t avoid his circumstances: there are actual, real men lurking in the darkness, waiting for a chance to murder him. He can’t alter it: King Saul has become so threatened by David that he has decided it’s better to simply end David’s existence. And although David could have accepted the situation — either by hiding forever inside or by walking out to allow the assassins to kill him — this is just not the way David is wired.

So, it’s the last of the four responses — adapt — that David uses here. He stops focusing on the very valid worries in his life, consciously steps back from the fear and stress of the moment, and takes a look at the big picture. He chooses to remember how God has sustained him in the past, and the promises that God has made about his future. And he celebrates that this painful time will not be the end of his story.

Which response sounds most like your typical response to stress in your life: avoid, alter, accept, or adapt?

* Glenna Salsbury. I remember listening to her talks with my mother, not on an iPod or even a CD-player, but on cassette tape. (Whew… getting old.) Luckily, even though the technology is antiquated, the concept has stood the test of time.

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