Getting Out of Survival Mode

Let’s be honest: we spend a lot of time in survival mode, right? Or at least I do. Maybe I should just speak for myself, but I know I’m not the only one out there “surviving” right now.

The problem is, survival mode is a space I’ve found myself repeatedly dwelling in, especially since entering the world of motherhood. I’m always looking ahead to the next phase, the next season, the next thing. I think it will be better or easier or more manageable once I’m sleeping again or once they’re in school or once they no longer fight over the front seat. (Does that ever end?)

But living life in survival mode is something I can talk about on many different levels (probably because I’m so experienced). Here are some more examples: If I can just get through winter. If we can just make it through flu season. If I can just get this renovation project over with or past this work deadline. If I can just get to vacation. Whatever our current struggle or stress-inducing situation, we pick a point just past it and say, There. If only I could get there.

Currently, for me, it’s: if I can just get through baseball season (four kids on four different schedules is a lot, people) and get this house flipped, things will be better. But I know what will happen. Getting there (wherever there might be) won’t satisfy me like I think it will. Instead, I’ll pick a new preconceived magical spot and aim yet again.

It’s a Constant Game of Survival Mode

But God doesn’t intend for us just to survive through life. He’s given us the tools and ability we need through the indwelling of His Spirit (called the Helper in John 16:7) and lots of promises, so we can thrive, not just survive. Second Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”

In Christ, we have what we need to not just get through, but to appreciate, enjoy, and partake in God’s kingdom each and every day—no matter what season of life we’re in. The problem is, we’re nearsighted, continually setting our eyes on a specific marker instead of setting our eyes on the specific Savior. We look for some new season to bring satisfaction instead of seeking satisfaction in the Lord, believing it’s the next thing that we need instead of God we most need.

As I began exploring the “why” behind my constant survival mode, I realized there is indeed a way out, and it has nothing to do with dates on a calendar or getting to the end of my current flip house, but it has everything to do with a Christ-centered perspective.

So now when I find myself trying to climb out of the trenches yet again, I start by asking myself these five questions.

  • Where is my hope—in an accomplishment, or in God who hasn’t left me and won’t forsake me?

Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Accomplishments are lovely, and we should celebrate them. But if it’s simply the next accomplishment I’m focused on, I’m going to come up empty and unsatisfied every time.

Besides, accomplishments don’t get me out of survival mode, they just lead me straight into the next one. But when my hope is in God, things shift. A Christ-centered perspective takes over, making room in my heart for joy and peace, which just so happen to be the two attributes I crave most when life feels like I’m swimming upstream.

But what does hope in God look like? Friend, hear me on this: it looks like believing God is still writing the story when the story’s unfolding differently than you thought. It looks like trusting that God is not done with you when it feels like God’s already moved on from you. And it looks like faith that God has a plan for you when it seems like life just isn’t right for you.

  • Am I worshipping or worrying?

This one gets me every time. When I’m worried, having an attitude of worship is the farthest thing from my mind. But it’s incredible the difference worshipping can make. God tells us to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let [our] requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).

So first, I lay it out there. Lord, I’m worried about ____. I’m so anxious; I just wish it was over with. Then no matter what my current mood or feelings, I praise the Lord with the kind of praise that says I’m all in—whether it’s singing as loud as I can in the car or raising my hands in the kitchen—because worship is the key that opens the door out of surviving and into thriving, my friend. It’s the fast track to a new mindset and a total game changer.

  • Why am I so discontent with today?

If I’m “surviving,” then chances are good I’m discontent about something. There’s a reason I’m not happy with today. Do I wish I wasn’t so busy? Am I worn out and longing for a break? Or am I simply not seeing God’s blessings? What is it that’s causing me to wish for tomorrow?

Because here’s the hard truth: whatever it is, I’ve made it an idol, be it sleep or sanity or slowness or success (“the four S’s,” as I like to call them). While none of those are bad things, if I’m surviving until I get it, then I’ve put it on a pedestal and decided that’s what I most need. When God is always Who we most need.

  • Where is my mind?

Honestly, I do wonder sometimes where my brain went, but this is not a question of location; it’s a question of aim. Colossians 3:2 says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Yet, I’m telling you, when I’m surviving, my eyes aren’t any higher than the kitchen sink.

This is a perspective question. Am I focused on God’s glory or my own? God’s will or my own? To set the mind on the eternal instead of the temporary is to swing a hard day toward a great day. It’s to remember God sees me and will reward me for anything done in His name and for His glory. But when I’m stuck on myself, I’m more than likely stuck in survival mode.

  • How’s my thankfulness?

Let’s be clear, none of these questions are fun to ask. Each of them reveals sin in my life and that’s never enjoyable, but to live in that sin is to miss out on God, and to miss out on God is to miss out on all that is truly wonderful. So we ask because it’s worth it!

First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” All circumstances, which means even seasons of survival! But here’s the thing, God didn’t mandate thankfulness just because He wants us to say “please” and “thank you,” but because He knows the heart change that will follow.

When I respond to God with a heart of thankfulness, I tend to respond to life differently too. Why? Because I’m coming at life thankful for what I already have instead of overwhelmed by thoughts of what I think I’m lacking.

The bottom line is this: we don’t have to live in survival mode, friends—not when we can live each and every day in Christ. When God’s glory is our focus and His will is our aim, we will thrive, not just survive. So don’t just pick a point past tomorrow to focus on, in hopes of making it there alive. Lift your eyes to Jesus, and declare today and right now to be a gift He has made.

About the Author

Stacey Salsbery

Stacey Salsbery

Stacey Salsbery is a farmer’s wife and mother of four—or as she likes to say, “President of Home Operations.” Stacey loves teaching women the Bible and along with her family makes her home in the cornfields of Indiana. For more, … read more …

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