Daily Devotional May 18, 2023

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life”. (Proverbs 4:23, ESV)

     I am not prone to omphalophobia (the fear of belly buttons). I don’t give them much thought. However, I am a bit of an ophidiophobe. I don’t care much for snakes.

     Several years ago, I had a close encounter with a Timber Rattlesnake while trimming the grass around a fence. I felt a tap against my boot. I didn’t see anything initially as I looked toward the ground. Upon closer inspection, I spotted the baby serpent slithering away. Apparently, he or she was not pleased to make my acquaintance. The feeling was mutual.

     Timber Rattlesnakes are a cryptic species. Their coloration and pattern camouflage them well within a wooded environment. Crypsis is a natural defense mechanism that conceals juveniles from predators. Classical examples of crypsis include stick insects, leaf-mimicking moths, and caterpillars that resemble bird droppings.
     Humans likewise have their own unique ways of defending themselves. Many defense mechanisms are developed early in life when we are most vulnerable to potential harm. Defense mechanisms are psychological strategies that we unconsciously use as a means of protecting us from anxious thoughts and feelings.

     Many people carry these protective measures long into adulthood. Denial is a common defensive tactic that many employ to shield one emotionally from a painful reality. One example is the person who puts off medical appointments to avoid facing their cancer prognosis. Denial is a means of guarding individuals from feeling overwhelmed.

     Displacement is another defensive means that protects persons from lashing out inappropriately toward others. The employee who vents angrily against an overly critical boss risks possible termination. Yet displacing the resentment onto members of the family following the workday provides a less risky but unfair option.

     To be certain, some defense mechanisms are healthy. Diffusing a potentially volatile conflict with humor is a positive protective strategy. However, strategies like denial, displacement, and rationalization do more harm than good.
     The author of Proverbs 4:23 admonishes each of us to monitor our hearts with vigilance. We must frequently examine ourselves to discern whether our defensive mechanisms are helpful or harmful. Introspection provides the most prudent and reliable means of protecting us all.

     May your heart stay alert and be careful where you step. You never know what may be hiding in the weeds.