Something I share very little about is how severely I’ve dealt with anxiety in these last few years. I really don’t like talking about it, partly because I’m embarrassed about it…it makes me feel weak, and taunts me that if I was a better person, a better Christian, I wouldn’t struggle with such things. But another reason I resist talking about it is because I don’t want to become one who sits about moping and complaining about my problems, which, compared to the rest of the worlds, are very small.
I have food to eat. I have a house to live in. My physical needs are more than met. I have a supportive and loving husband. My family is healthy. I live in a safe and free country. I have loving parents and family members who live near to me. I have an incredible church. I am cared for, listened to, I am loved.
And then I shake my head because why in the world do I still struggle with panic attacks?!?
Why do I wake up in the middle of the night, struggling to breathe, my stomach twisted into a knot? Why? Why do I have no control over it? Why can I not get a grip? And the answer is very simple:
Anxiety is a lot like drowning in your own mind, which is very similar to physical drowning. Yelling “stop it” to a drowning person will not save them, for they can not “stop it”. In the same way saying to a person with anxiety “just think about good things” doesn’t help, because maybe they aren’t thinking about anything! And even if they are, you can not just “think good thoughts” to get rid of anxiety.
It cannot be controlled in the mind just because it begins in the mind, for something is happening inside that seems to affect the whole body. I’m not writing about lingering on bad thoughts or sulking. Anxiety isn’t just having fear or worry. Those things can very much be controlled, because as soon as you can put a finger on the issues that are being worried about, you can deal with them at the root.
No, anxiety is a deep, sinking feeling that something is very, very wrong and the more you try to figure out what that something is, the more you begin to feel that it is everything. Everything is wrong. And I cannot fix everything. And so begins an attack.
Now sometimes what helps with anxiety is staying busy, which works great during the daytime, because when our minds our preoccupied with other things, they tend to not overthink the feelings inside. But most of my anxiety happens at night.
Many reputable resources tell you to lie down and breathe deeply to calm an anxiety attack…ummm duh, I was sleeping, that’s exactly WHAT I was doing.
Then next suggestion is medication and to be honest, I just don’t want to go there. This is not to say it is wrong! Not AT ALL! I do not in any way look down on those who turn to anxiety medicine, in fact, I very much understand them and rejoice with them as they find healing and are able to once again handle life. However, I am not yet at the place where I am ready to go down that road because I am not totally convinced that my anxiety is to do with imbalances in my body. I want to be sure that it is before I begin taking such prescriptions.
Sometimes I believe that my anxiety is actually a spiritual attack, which brings me to sharing about my anxiety attack a couple nights ago:
I was lying in bed, it was 2am, and I woke up with that familiar heavy knot in my stomach. Then, a sudden thought came across my mind about something that had happened during the day and I began to feel that this issue was all out of my control and that it quite literally would put an end to my family, it would ruin my marriage, it would destroy my children. And if that were true, yes, PRESS THE PANIC BUTTON!!!
But the word feel is key!
This couldn’t be won with reason, because I knew that my thoughts were ridiculous, I KNEW it, but in my emotions they felt real and I could not get a grasp on what was going on inside of me. Half an hour of torment went by when suddenly I realized how helpless I was to fight this battle on my own. It was then that I cried out to God, pleading with him to help me, to calm me, to give me peace. Suddenly the thought came to me: “Get up, go downstairs, and start journaling to God about how you feel.” (I don’t actually believe that it was my own thought, rather it was God speaking to my heart.)
So that is what I did. For the next fifteen minutes, I wrote down all my worries, my fears, my thoughts and it wasn’t helping me AT ALL. In fact, it was causing me to think of more and more things so that eventually I filled three full pages of my journal with worries. And suddenly, there was that quiet voice again, “Now ask me to speak into these problems.”
So I wrote: “Father please! Hear me now! I need a word from you! I need you to tell me that I can let go of control, that you’ve got this! Please Jesus, speak! For I am desperate and listening!
And here is what I heard:
God: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born I set you apart! You have been born for this very time, this very place! You are right where I want you. Don’t be troubled, little sheep, for I am with you – you will not be overcome. I will rescue you Heather. Just watch me!”
I am aware that not everybody believes that God still speaks today. And that some believe God just speaks through his word. And then there’s some people that believe he can speak, but fail to believe when he speaks, thinking that it was maybe their own thoughts. They doubt it was really God!
But I can tell you without a doubt, God speaks today and God speaks personally.
My words, my thoughts do NOT bring me peace. They are powerless against my anxiety, in fact they sometimes make things worse. But in hearing God speak these words over me, I felt peace.
And then I asked God how he saw me right then, in that moment.
God: I see you as tired and worried about many things. But only one thing is needed. Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. When you were afraid, trust in me. You can trust me Heather, I will take care of you. I will not desert you. I am here.
Warmth and peace filled my heart. And then I walked back up the stairs to my room, scared my daughter half to death (she was using the bathroom and just saw a shadow coming slowly up the stairs LOL), lay down, and peacefully drifted off to sleep.
Unbelievable. God had brought me from panic to peace.
Friends, this I know to be true: One word from God can do more healing, bring more comfort and restore far more than a thousand words from those around us. But are we listening? Are we asking? When we hear, are we believing?
Listening for God’s voice used to confuse me and worry me, but it doesn’t anymore because I’ve learned not to doubt when I hear him. It’s really quite simple; I just ask him to speak, and wait. Often a word, a thought or a picture will come to my head. If it doesn’t conflict with the Bible, I believe it is from God (for God’s word is the foundation for God speaking to us.) I also hold it with open hands because I am human and make mistakes, so we need to be SO humble in all of this. Many have been hurt when pride is combined with “listening” to God. We MUST stay humble and know God’s word if we want to hear God’s voice.
Right now, the church is suffering. Many saints are tired and weary. Pastors are burning out. Families in the church are fighting. Churches are splitting. People are hurting others and holding onto hurts. God LONGS to speak to us, he longs to renew us.
Are we willing to be still and listen?
Or will we keep trying to do it on our own?
God, help us to listen to your voice in humility. Help us to learn from you, for you long to give us rest! Thank you for speaking to your people. Thank you for bringing me peace.