The term “shell shock” was coined during World War I to describe the physiological reaction of soldiers who faced the seemingly endless barrage of artillery fire and shelling from the enemy. Bombardments could literally go on constantly for over a week in an attempt to weaken the defenses of soldiers who would then be attacked in an offensive. Soldiers would snap, running out of bunkers above the trench line to certain death, would get uncontrollable tremors and similar nervous conditions that could stay with them for a lifetime. Sometimes, as the result of shell shock, men would become mutes.
I ran across an interesting observation concerning shell shock. Joseph Persico writes, In a curious sociological phenomenon, as the level of responsibility rose, the incidence of shell shock declined. An officer looking after his men,inspecting fortifications, checking on rations, in short, a man whose attentions were directed outward–was less likely to crack than a simple, uneducated solider left alone on sentry duty or crouched in a shell hole for hours, even days, his thoughts fixed obsessively on his fate (Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day, 1918: World War I And Its Violent Climax, Random House: 2005, p. 155). What a remarkable finding!
Under conditions most of us cannot imagine, some men were able to keep themselves sane and collected while those around them fell apart encountering the same conditions. The difference was a matter of focus. I have seen people crumble, their faith destroyed and their lives a mess, when facing the trials of life. Yet, I have seen others face even greater trials, seemingly unbearable crises, who have remained calm, collected, and Christlike through them. The difference usually boils down to something similar to Persico’s findings. Those who continue to keep their focus outward, despite personal duress and difficulty, are able to “keep it together.” Those who merely obsess and focus on themselves are destined to crumble facing the trials of life.
Paul told the church at Philippi, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (2:3-4). This is wisdom not only for pleasing the Lord, but for living a more fulfilled, serene life. Satan and the world will bombard us in ways that seem relentless and endless. Only when we focus outwardly rather than inwardly will we be able to survive!