I remember my first bout with panic attacks. I felt like I was drowning on dry land as wave after wave of anxiety hit me.
It was a horrible experience. Feeling out of control. Fighting your own mind. Trying to catch your breath. Struggling to keep your head above the waves.
I wasn’t expecting it. I had counseled people with panic attacks. I had preached sermons on overcoming anxiety. I had a strong grasp on Scripture and theology…and seemingly I had control of my own thoughts.
But the waves hit me anyway.
It is wild to know that your thoughts are crazy and irrational…and yet be unable to stop them.
It is humbling to know that you are not in control.
If you have never had panic attacks, be thankful…and be sympathetic toward those who have.
If you have had panic attacks, take courage…there is hope after the storms.
My first battles with anxiety began when I was young. I was always a little nervous as a kid. My imaginative personality lent itself to an introspective life…an awareness of my mortality…and an ability to imagine the worst case scenario…often in vivid colors. But anxiety was more like an annoying little brother than a dominant taskmaster. I worked through it…avoided stressful situations…fed off adrenaline when necessary…and poured myself into activities in which I could succeed.
But as I got older, anxiety seemed to grow too. There was more on the line. The stakes were raised. Failure had greater ramifications…on me…on my family…on others who depended on me.
When the panic attacks finally hit me, they forced me to take inventory…to dig deeper…to face my fears…to face myself.
In the past fifteen years I have seen periods of weakness and times of victory in my battle with anxiety. But whether I was winning the battle or losing it, I still experienced growth in my life. God humbled me. He crippled me. He put me on my knees. Not to harm me…but to bless me. To heal me. To remake me in His image.
I believe at our core…we all have fear.
We are small, mortal, vulnerable individuals living in a massive, dangerous, sin-impacted world. Behind our masks of toughness and images of invincibility are the realities of our weakness. We can deny it, downplay it, hide it, fight it, medicate it, or compensate for it…but it is still there.
And it should be there…if we are rational creatures willing to take an honest inventory of our situation.
The Bible presents fear as the primary emotion of Adam and Eve after they sinned against God (Genesis 3:10).
Behind our shame is fear of exposure.
Behind our guilt is fear of consequences.
Behind our anger is fear of loss of control.
Behind our sorrow is fear of loss itself.
And, of course, behind our anxiety is fear itself…unmasked…unveiled…unchecked.
In battling anxiety, I have learned that the victory doesn’t come in denying fear but in exploring it…exposing it…admitting it…and putting your trust in something greater…Someone greater.
Anxiety used to be my annoying little brother…then it became my relentless taskmaster…now it is becoming my toughest teacher.
It is teaching me to be honest with myself…and with others.
It is teaching me to depend on the Spirit each and every day…and not on myself.
It is teaching me to change my habits…to learn to rest…to eat better…to think better…to breathe better.
It is teaching me that we are body-soul-spirit creatures…and that true healing involves all three.
It is teaching me to be compassionate…to love mercy…to embrace weakness.
It is teaching me to look higher…hope further…go deeper.
It is teaching me to fear God…as the antidote to all other fears.
“He who fears God has nothing else to fear.” (Charles Spurgeon)
Anxiety is a battle…but the battle is the Lord’s (1 Samuel 17:47).