Then, just as we felt like things were settling down, a new threat appeared on the horizon: Y2K. Remember that one? Sure you do. Supposedly all the computer systems (and that meant just about everything) was not programmed to handle the date rollover on December 31, 1999. Various experts predicted what they called a TEOTWAKI (The End of the World as you Know It) scenario that sounded vaguely similar to what Larry had been predicting. So, we kept preparing. My kids still remind me of that night so many years ago when I sat nervously at the keyboard awaiting the TEOTWAKI. I even had an electrical generator ready to go. We were as ready as we could be. Well, some time around midnight of December 31, 1999 it became evident to me that all the experts were, once again, wrong. TEOTWAKI was, once again on hold.
I relaxed a little more after that. Actually, I relaxed a lot and became much more skeptical and even cynical about so-called experts. But that was just in time for September 11, 2001.
The nature of the doomsday threats began to change after that. It wasn't technology that would destroy us but international terrorists. And, of course, we all remember how the war on terror changed our lives. For people already expecting TEOTWAKI, the daily news about Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden served to fan the flames of fear and continue energizing us in our disaster preparedness.
I know all this continued to affect me in profound ways. It also was impacting my family in ways I didn't realize for a long time. I am convinced that this atmosphere of danger was a significant reason two of my boys decided to do something about it. They decided to join the war on terror, rather than just fret about it, becoming United States Marines.
I could go on rehearsing the various TEOTWAKI threats we continue hearing about. Lately, at least in my “circles” the threats have become highly political. The enemy is not just “out there” but “in here.” I fear that our political leaders themselves are out to destroy us and so the flame of TEOTWAKI continues to burn.
But something has changed in me over the past few months. Well, it's probably been longer than that but that's when it became most obvious. Though I remain convinced that the world as I know it has ended, I don't have the same level of energy to do anything about it. I remember the days when a certain news report or Internet warning would send my wife and me on a buying spree, preparing for the worst as we would say.
But even though the paranoid and frightening reports continue almost daily it's been a long time since we've made a trip like that. Is that because we feel as though everything is being overhyped and things really aren't that bad after all? Probably not. Rather it's something even more debilitating: what I'm calling Disaster Fatigue. I have had it for many months now and it has left me somewhat helpless in the face of these newest threats to survival.
You may know that when the human body faces a survival threat neurotransmitters like epinephrine (adrenaline) are released. Epinephrine is called the “fight/flight” chemical. It energizes us for action. I suspect the first surge of TEOTWAKI Adrenaline surged through my veins when I read Burkett's book. And over the last twenty years there has been no lack of new triggers to keep the adrenaline surging.
Even if you haven't been that impacted by all this disaster talk like I have you no doubt have experienced the effects of epinephrine. For you, the TEOTWAKI scenarios may have been things like job changes, diseases or relational conflict. In any case, all the change and instability generated by the threats released streams of epinephrine in your body that kept you on edge and alert until you figured out what to do about it. Or maybe you never got over it and it continues to surge.
Specialists have discovered something about adrenaline surges, however. There is a definite law of diminishing returns. Conditions like Chronic Fatigue and emotional burnout are on the increase and the experts see a link between long term adrenaline release and these conditions. For example, “adrenal fatigue” occurs when the adrenal glands, located on top of the kidneys and responsible for generating adrenaline, get weary and worn down by the ongoing demand for adrenaline.
That's kind of what I think has happened to me, especially in the last few months. It's what I mean by Disaster Fatigue. It's not that I think the threats are insignificant or that the danger has passed. It's that I have less energy to continue the high state of alertness I've maintained for nearly twenty years.
On a much more basic level, the function of epinephrine is not just to alert us to threats and dangers but to motivate us to seek safety. Whereas the Reticular Formation (brain stem) is where the alertness begins, it's in the Thalamus gland (located on top of the Reticular Formation) information for safety is found. What does a child do when adrenaline surges through his brain? He cries for help (flight) and reaches out to his mother (fight). The information is then stored in the Cerebellum (located at the base of the skull) so that new habits of responding to danger are internalized. Now, when safe in her arms, he settles down and the adrenaline surge begins to subside. That's the way God meant this to work.
But when he doesn't find safety in her arms, for example, when his mother has her own fear issues and communicates them to her son, even on a subconscious level, the alarm continues to ring and the adrenaline continues to surge. Sadly, this is typical of a growing number of people. But before we start blaming our mothers let me say emphatically that God never intended us to find the degree of safety and stability we seek in our mother's arms! Nor did God intend us to find it in any other creature. Throughout our lives, and into adulthood, we react to dangers and threats with new surges of adrenaline. And we continue looking for safe attachment figures to hold onto. As we get older we are more inclined to objects than people—bank accounts, investments and job security are favorites. Even so, they are never quite enough.
That's because God never intended them to be. God's plan from the beginning was that we would find our rest and safety in him. I don't mean to suggest that it's wrong to have a bank account or an investment portfolio. But it is wrong to look to them for safety in a time of trouble.
And so, as I consider my own Disaster Fatigue in response to twenty years of TEOTWAKI threat, I can't help but hang my head in shame. It is a glaring reminder to me that I have failed miserably to find a true and workable source of safety and stability. I've tried various strategies. All the disaster preparations and plans have had a place. But they have ultimately been inadequate. That's because only one thing would really provide safety and stability: God alone. If I was really clinging to him as I should, I would certainly continue preparing for hard times but I would not do so for the same reason.
The psalmist said it like this: “God is at my right hand; I shall not be moved” (Psalm 16:8). Included in that phrase, “I shall not be moved” are at least three new motives or reasons for disaster preparation:
- I will not be moved emotionally
- I will not be moved intellectually
I guess that's good to a point. I shouldn't have put my confidence in Larry Burkett or the others anyway. But when the psalmist said he would “not be moved” I think he was describing a certain level of intellectual stability. He was not filled with intellectual doubts, suspicions and mistrust. Why? Because God was at his right hand. In practical terms, this means I must take all the predictions and prognostications of the experts with a grain (okay, a tablespoon) of salt. But more than that, I need to maintain God's perspective on disaster. How do I do that? Thankfully, God has provided a clear picture in his word. The Bible makes it clear how the story of history will go. The only time we're promised stability and peace that never fades away is in the world to come (1 Peter 1:3).
- I will not be moved physically
When the wolf was nipping at his heals he cried out to God for help. With nowhere else to turn and no strength of his own, he reached his hands toward heaven and, mercifully, God met him in his moment of greatest need. He had been moved physically from the danger. He had been moved and destabilized emotionally and intellectually. But now, safe in God's hands, his feet on a solid footing, the most amazing surge of neurotransmitters surged through his system. The adrenaline subsided and was replaced by another: serotonin—what I call the “I'm Okay Potion.”
I love the way he described it:
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand (Psalm 16:10,11).
Notice how his body (adrenal glands) settle down in the new experience of safety. And notice that promise: “eternal pleasures at your right hand.” What a cure for Disaster Fatigue!
That's what the psalmist found. In modern scientific terms, the adrenaline inducing fear and anxiety diminished. After finding safety and security he experienced the peace and comfort of serotonin and no doubt another neurotransmitter, oxytocin--“eternal pleasure” at God's right hand. What is eternal pleasure? It's a pleasure that never goes away; a peace that lasts. And that sure sounds appealing to someone like me. I hope it does to you as well.