Easy Steps to Find the Peace Between Stimulus and Response
Have you ever heard the phrase, “pause between stimulus and response?” Austrian psychotherapist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl famously said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
I teach this to my college students. And I share a personal story to illustrate the difference it can make in a situation how it can change a life. However, for our purposes, instead of the space as our power to choose our response, what if we considered the following? Between stimulus and response is the space for being still with God. The Bible even addresses pausing between stimulus and response. "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God." James 1:19-20 (ESV)
I have never thought of this before. This is so much more powerful than leaning on our own power. When I tell my personal story to my students to illustrate how to pause, God is not in it. And, when I think back to the event I share, if I had included God in the pause, I see all kinds of ways the entire situation would have been better even though everything turned out just fine. But did I miss an opportunity for the blessing of the better? What if, in my pausing to calm down, I would have cried out to God for help and guidance?
To live out holiness, we must re-orient our lives and the lens through which we see and act. Our first thought should be God. The lens should be, what would Christ do? In this moment, am I living out the fruits of the Spirit? Each moment is an opportunity to connect with God and reflect His light to the world. So today, let us remember the spaces for being still with God.
How to Learn to Pause Between Stimulus and Response
This is easiest learned if you pick a situation where you respond immediately without thinking. Usually, it is related to something which frequently makes you mad. For some, it might be something triggering sadness. It might be related to stressing out when you drive.
Set the intention to pause and be with God between stimulus and response the next time this situation occurs. If you typically struggle at work when you have to deal with Mr. So and So, then when you see in your schedule, you have a meeting with Mr. So and So, write “pause between stimulus and response” as a reminder to do so. As you walk into the meeting, keep thinking, “pause between stimulus and response.” Ask God to help you as you enter the meeting. Ask God to be in that space. For others, it may be related to driving and stress. Or, when you and your spouse talk about money. The basic idea is to set the intention and then, in the situation, to pause and be with God in the space between stimulus and response.
After trying this out in a situation, reflect on what happened. Did you pause? Did you pause and remember to connect with God? Consider what you could do better next time if a similar situation arises.
Below are questions for reflection and an activity to help you improve your pause between stimulus and response. Choose one of the following questions to sit still with at the feet of God.
Recall a time when you did not pause between stimulus and response. How would the outcome have been improved if, between stimulus and response, you took the space and were still with God?
Recall a time when you did pause between stimulus and response. How would the outcome have been improved if, between stimulus and response, you took the space and were still with God?
Starting today, work on pausing between stimulus and response. Take the space between the two to be still with God. Keep track of how you are doing. Eventually, pausing between stimulus and response will become natural, and you will learn to make the space between a holy time with God.
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