A friend was hiking in the Sierra Mountains with others. On the edge of a cliff at 10,000 feet, the group came to a narrow segment of trail that forced them to walk single file. My friend was focused on keeping her feet planted on the precarious path.
She rounded a corner, looked up and saw a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike. She panicked. She didn't think. She screamed to the stars.
Still standing and alive, she looked again and noted the snake hadn't moved. There was no rattle. It was headless. A prankster had propped the carcass on a boulder to scare the next person around the bend, who happened to be her.
In the year ahead there might be times when you "turn a bend" in your life and see a scary picture. Loss of a job, not enough money, a family conflict or a dire health diagnosis may trigger alarm and tempt you to fear the worst.
But you have a choice to make when caught by surprise. You can either react with blind emotion like my friend screaming at the snake, or respond with wisdom and poise that keep thought clear and ready to make a wise choice.
To prevent uncontrolled panic, one can pray ahead of time for presence of mind that is ready to respond to alarming circumstances with sound judgment. An awareness of God's presence brings presence of mind that calms thought and allows inspired solutions to surface. The all-wise mind of God is always with you to help.
The prophet Isaiah wrote: "Right behind you a voice will say, 'This is the way you should go, whether to the right or to the left.' " (Isaiah 30:21, NLT) A yearning to hear the voice of wisdom shuts down impulsive urges and enables one to hear reason that inspires constructive action.
Prayer quiets the human mind, silences fear and tunes thought into God's direction. It enables one to hear ideas, inspirations and intuitions that come from the mind of God and tell what to do. When we listen, we hear, and we should expect to discern the right response for the surprise of the moment.
So, if you don't want to be caught in breathless terror over an otherwise frightening event in the future, prepare now to be ready. Cultivate a daily habit of listening for God's direction and acting on it. In a prayerful state of mind over the months ahead, you'll be ready for anything.
If you hike down a trail and spot a "rattlesnake" ready to strike, you'll have the presence of mind to stay calm and composed. You'll find a peace within that enables you to make a thoughtful decision.
You may even discover that what you thought was super scary was not scary at all.
-- Evan Mehlenbacher is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher in Richland and member of First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Pasco. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.