NEURAL DEVELOPMENT IS A PROCESS
A baby's brain is a beautiful thing. At birth, a baby’s brain contains over 100 billion nerve cells or neurons, constituting almost all that it will ever have. The process of neural development begins with those immediately essential to life outside the womb. Examples of these would be neurons for regulating the heart rate, body temperature or breathing. Later, higher functions such as sexual behavior, attachment, or concrete and abstract thought develop and mature.
Brain development, what we call “learning”, occurs through a process of strengthening, forming and/or breaking down the connections between neurons. In fact, inter-neuron connections, or synapses, form pathways throughout the brain.
Some pathways allow the body to respond to stimuli without conscious thought. These responses, called reflexes, help babies to act in complex ways that would otherwise be impossible at birth. For example, stroking the cheek of a newborn baby elicits the reflex to turn the head in the direction of the cheek that was stroked. This rooting reflex, essential to life, allows a newborn to readily respond to breastfeeding cues. Also, you can touch a spoon to the tip of a baby's tongue and watch how the baby will push it out using the tongue-thrust reflex. This reflex protects babies from choking or ingesting foreign objects and is one of the reasons a mother must wait four to six months before introducing solid food.
While these infant reflexes disappear as babies mature, other reflexes stay with us throughout adulthood. For example, if you step on a sharp object while barefoot, the flexion/cross-extension reflex kicks in, pulling your injured foot away while concurrently extending the opposite limb. Or, if you have ever inadvertently placed your hand in scalding hot water, it is the withdrawal reflex that pulls your arm out of harm's way. These reflexes save you the precious microseconds of conscious thought required to think, “Hmmm...that water is really hot and burning my hand...maybe I should try and pull it away really quickly!” In other words, reflexes help us to minimize damage to our body.
Our brains also contain pathways that, while not necessarily common to all people, help us to navigate life more smoothly and enjoyably. For example, we all have learned behaviors that we perform repeatedly. Repetition strengthens our brain connections so that we perform them more easily over time. These learned behaviors, or habits, enable us to play a musical instrument, drive a car, brush our teeth, or type without looking at the keyboard. Imagine if I had to consciously lift each finger and decide on the distance and then the strength needed to depress the key! Therefore, like reflexes, habits also allow us to live our lives safely and efficiently.
In addition to reflexes and habits, we have still more complex ways of responding to stressors in our environment. For example, coping mechanisms are developed responses to internal and external stimuli in an effort to master, tolerate or reduce stressful situations. (Note: not all stress is bad. Eustress, or “good” stress, is the beneficial stress that encourages us to function properly. Examples of eustress would include feeling joy at the birth of a child, excitement when getting married, or hunger before a meal. We can cope with these forms of stress. However, the negative form of stress is distress and occurs when stressors overcome our coping mechanisms.)
The all-important question is how do you respond to distressful situations? How do you deal with emotional pain? Some react to stress by turning to substances that produce physical pleasure, such as tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs, or food. Pleasurable activities, like sex or exercise, can also distract people from their problems. Sadly, some seek entertainment, spending countless hours on music, movies or electronic games. And some displace their stress onto others by inflicting verbal or physical abuse.
PROBLEMS REMAIN UNSOLVED WITH MANMADE COPING MECHANISMS
Rather than solving problems, these distractions weaken the body, dull the mind and torment the soul. The bottom line is that the problem still remains.
THE BIBLE TEACHES US A BETTER WAY
Though these coping mechanisms may fail us, we have a better way to deal with stress. The Bible teaches that optimum physical and mental health is achieved by following God’s plan to “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness...” (Matthew 6:33).
In fact, we learn from Jesus’ example, that even in the most stressful circumstances we must seek God first. Consider how in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus “fell prostrate upon the ground, in an agony of distress” (White, Manuscript 52, 1904). The cumulative effects of millennia of sin committed by all humanity were bound up and given to Him on this dark night. Therefore, the vilest physical or emotional harm ever experienced by humanity cannot compare to the stress and pain that Jesus experienced on our behalf in Gethsemane.
“And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly…” (Luke 22:44). We see from Jesus’ example that He did not pull away from pain as we do when we touch a hot stove. He did not assuage His stress by engaging in mindless entertainment, as we often do. Nor did He seek sleep to anesthetize the deep pain that threatened His very life.
Christ's habit, the reflex which He developed throughout His entire life, was to earnestly cling to His Father praying, “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mark 14:36). And as Christ submitted His will to the Father, He gained divine strength to overcome. “As the will of man co-operates with the will of God, it becomes omnipotent. Whatever is to be done at His command may be accomplished in His strength” (White, Christ’s Object Lessons, 333).
THE POWER THAT SUSTAINED JESUS ON THAT DARK NIGHT WAS NOT HIS OWN, BUT THAT OF HIS FATHER ABOVE.
We need look no further than to our Savior for the example we must follow to overcome the stress we face in life. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Therefore, to overcome as Christ did, we must learn to pray even as our Savior prayed.
We are doomed to failure if we choose to face life’s stress while unconnected to Jesus Christ. However, if we are united with Him, we shall stand through any stress or persecution that this world may lay upon us.
“There is no danger that the Lord will neglect the prayers of His people. The danger is that in temptation and trial they will become discouraged, and fail to persevere in prayer” (White, 175).