“It’s going to take all your will, brotha. It takes a brave person to truly live.”
I remember so well this conversation with my old friend and boss “The Skipper”. I’ll never forget his words... will-brave-live. We were talking about coping with depression and he was sharing stories of his own battles which were too intimate to tell here. I will say my friend knows the feeling of panic and depression unfortunately well. I had explained to him that at times my panic is so severe that no amount of medicine can change what’s happening to my body. At the time I felt as if there was no answer to my problems; I believed I was the only person in the world who felt the way that I did.
I am very fortunate to have a much older friend (by forty years), who has suffered greatly from depression/anxiety/panic in an almost identical fashion.
Both of us have experienced panic that has lead to hyperventilation that feels like a heart attack, or at least what we imagined a heart attack to feel like; heart pounding out of chest, chest pain, rapid breathing, nausea, cold sweats, etc. It’s a horrible and frightening feeling that doesn’t make any sense because it comes sometimes from stress and sometimes from nothing at all. For me, sometimes just paranoia alone would cause it to happen. The truly frustrating factor is that there isn’t a lot of research to explain why this would happen to someone... the feeling of a heart attack in the form of panic, all produced by your mind.
As a christian I would spend a lot of time in prayer asking for God to take it all away. I prayed for anxiety/panic relief as if God is some kind of “Good Doctor”, that just nurses us back to a hundred percent mental and physical health. I’d argue with God asking, “Why would you let me have these awful feelings...what good are they to me as a human being?” Sometimes I’d spend all day in my bedroom staring at the ceiling only to leave for a bathroom break, never eating, barely hydrating, and not speaking to anyone... not even my wife.
“Do not ask for challenges equal to your strength, but for strength equal to your challenges”
This statement was printed on a baseball poster that hung on my bedroom wall as a teenager, and it wasn’t until recently that I understood what it probably means.
God is not going to make your challenges disappear. He won’t even make them easier. In fact there’s a good chance he’ll let them get worse, because He designed human beings for growth and spirituality.
Recently, there was a “Grey’s Anatomy” episode where they said the popular phrase, “God doesn’t tempt you beyond what you can bare...He doesn’t give people more than they can handle”.
Only half of this is actually correct. “God doesn’t tempt us beyond what we can bare”, however he gives people more than they can handle everyday. If you don’t believe me, it’s in 1 Corinthians 10:13, sorry to burst your comfort bubble. It says no where in the Bible that God won’t give you more than you can handle, so your next question is probably “Why?”
I don’t have a comforting answer for you and I’m open to being wrong, but I don’t think I am.
God gives us more than we can handle so that we can grow as human beings, and so that we simply need God.
He allows things to happen to us everyday that drive us insane often questioning our very existence. If you’re a parent, you certainly can understand why it’s necessary to teach and sometimes punish your children for their better good. I’m not saying that God is punishing you for anything, but perhaps he is trying to teach you something of value that as a parent He knows you need to learn.
“What about my crumbling relationship?”, “Why did my parents say those awful things to me?”, “Why was I emotionally or physically abused by someone?”, “What about death?”, “What about betrayal?”, the questions continue and God keeps answering the same way…
Ask... and I will give to you.
The trouble begins when we assume the way God will give. When we do that, we have an unrealistic expectation of God that doesn’t belong in our psyche. We can’t possibly anticipate how God will give, but we do it anyway driving ourselves further insane. Then we pray again asking God why He isn’t answering. Sometimes God doesn’t necessarily give “answers”, in the way that our humanity understands, but He always gives us choices.
“Ask and it will be given to you.”
Let me break this down for you the way it happened in my own life.
I asked God to take away my anxiety/depression/panic, but if God would have given that to me I would have been tempted beyond what I could bare, and God does not go against his own word.
One day, I prayed something very brave. A notion creeped into my brain that I was asking for something that God was refusing to give in order to protect me. I thought, perhaps I was asking Him for the wrong thing to happen. I thought, maybe if God relieves me of my condition I won’t need Him anymore. So, I remember praying very carefully, “God, you gave Solomon wisdom, give me a spirit of fearlessness”.
I realized that I may be fighting this fight for the rest of my life, so I decided I need to be fearless. I needed God sized strength. I needed Jesus’s “Braveheart”, when he said, “Not my will lord, but Yours”.
The next day I went work as I always did, with panic in my chest, fear in my heart, despair in my mind, but I kept praying, “God, make me fearless”.
The truth became ever so clear. How could I do anything if I can’t leave my house without having a panic attack?
So I left my xanax at home, and decided I was going to fight! And there was a fight waiting for me. Every day of work became worse. Confrontations happened. Panic destroyed me. Every single thing I feared about life began to happen to me in an abundance, but I kept fighting with my little prayer, “God, make me fearless”.
One day, after dealing with another mean confrontation at work, when my shift was over I got in my car and began to laugh. I said “That customer was so rude and furious because I wouldn’t give him a whole slice of cake at my food demo...what a shame to lose your joy over slice of cake". I began to laugh until I cried, and I drove through Manhattan on purpose instead of driving the less scary route over the George Washington bridge. And I was in ecstasy!
The next day I had a panic attack that caused me to hyperventilate as usual, but I decided not to take a xanax. I prayed again my little prayer, “God, make me fearless". I began to breathe, slowly and strong.
What is the moral of this stupid story about a weak little man riddled with fear?
God is a giver of good gifts
God is a good, good, father. And I’m in love with Him. It’s who I am.
If you ever sang that song in church, sing it loud! He deserves it, and you need it. God breaks us apart until all that’s left is love and faith. “The just shall live by faith alone”. My anxiety/panic/depression isn’t cured. I’m still frightened as a puppy. I simply don’t care anymore. All I care about is feeling the touch of my Savior. Which I have begun to feel far from a church building.
I feel it in my car when I fear of having an accident. I feel it when I do an audit for my job at it’s many locations in the boroughs of New York. I feel it when I drive through Manhattan among chaos of the world. I feel it when I come home to my darling wife and feel my daughter kick, as I say her name to my wife’s pregnant belly. I feel it when I have a panic attack in the middle of the night and can’t sleep an hour. I feel it when I’m writing jokes for stand-up comedy. I feel it when I’m memorizing lines for an audition.
And yes...sometimes I feel it on a Sunday morning in a church pew.
The truth is, the touch of God is everywhere and in everything you do. “If you seek it you will find it, if you knock the door will open." Don’t expect God to solve your problems, expect him to solve YOU.
“I’m no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.”
Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, He will come with vengeance; with divine retribution He will come to save you.”
John Christian Pra:
I must be honest: the overwhelming pressures of living with constant anxiety/depression has not been an issue for me. I normally can wake up, get ready, and start my day without any problem. I can’t recall any days where I’ve been completely frozen by fear. That isn’t my story.
We all can relate to how difficult it is to connect to a person’s issue to which we have no real understanding.
Chris has been in my life now for the last eight years when he started dating my sister, and I was never able to really grasp the depth of his struggle. I knew that his battle with anxiety and depression was real, but I had no way of relating.
That was until Summer 2017.
Summer 2017 was probably the best summer of my life. And not because I spent tons of time traveling, hanging out with friends, and soaking in the sunshine. That summer showed me how much I need to rely on God.
In that short span of three months, I burnt out quicker than I knew possible. I was participating in so much that I didn’t take anytime to care for myself. Between interning at a church, traveling to and from Pilgrim Camp in the Adirondacks, working on the side, trying to be present for different relationships, and recovering from a heat stroke (that’s a story for another day), these few months revealed many of my limitations and weaknesses. But probably the most important lesson I learned within it all was this:
“Doing stuff for Jesus doesn’t equate with growing in our relationship with Him.”
I learned that I could constantly be doing different things in the name of Jesus, yet never actually growing deeper in my relationship with Him.
Constantly doing and never stopping to experience His presence is a recipe for burnout. So that’s exactly what happened.
I started to experience anxiety that I never had before.
For the first time, I could begin to connect with how Chris felt. And it rocked my world. It gave me a compassion for him that I had never felt before, and it gave me compassion for those that deal with these mental health issues on a daily basis. It made me realize that it really is a battle.
You know that worship song that says, “Break my heart for what breaks yours”? Be careful when you pray that. It sounds nice to sing and looks like a great prayer when we say it (especially in front of others). But when that prayer becomes a reality, it usually isn’t as pretty.
Despite the overwhelming nature of anxiety and the different forms it can take, the battle has taught me much about myself, even in the few ways I’ve experienced it. I found that life with anxiety is not a comfortable one. But in this discomfort, I was turned to the only thing that could provide me ultimate comfort - Christ living in me, and the Holy Spirit’s never-ending comfort in the midst of all my issues.
“Why would we need to experience the Comforter if our lives are already comfortable?”
This quote from Francis Chan reminded me of the true nature of our faith in Christ. Even when everything around us seems to be disconnected and unreachable, we have the Holy Spirit to comfort, lead and guide.
With that, I want to share a quick story that took place in August of this last summer. The moment itself was insignificant and mundane, but God seems to speak loudest in those moments. It was a moment that helps me every time anxiety begins to rear its ugly head.
I was taking a shower, just singing songs of praise and worship. No specific song, nothing super spiritual, but I knew in that moment I was dealing with feelings of anxiety. And as I sang, I realized that I was singing these praises aimlessly, hoping that they might make me feel better or relieve some of the tension that was building.
It was at that moment when the Lord reminded me that the point in the singing was not to simply feel better. The point was to worship and praise Him - the One who sustains us in those moments. When we fix our gaze on Him and not on the concerns in our faces, we can move forward.
I’m not here to say that this is an easy three-step process, but the positioning of our focus will determine the direction we move. Will we move forward, even though the road may be uncomfortable, or will we focus on the anxiety as an insurmountable block in our way?
By ourselves, we are incapable to do anything but crumble under the never-ending pressures in our lives. With God, we can move forward living victoriously, even in the face of our harshest adversities.
In Romans 8:6, Paul writes: “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
Putting ourselves in the focal point will lead to constant hurt and pain. When we set our minds on the Spirit, our entire outlook is changed. Our perspective is set straight. Our priorities are aligned.
Life changes when we are being led by the Spirit and not by our flesh.
Later in that chapter, Paul goes on to say, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Notice he never says that these things will never come, or that there will be no troubles whatsoever. Instead he says that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (v. 37).
Did you catch that?
When we look to Christ first, we become more than conquerors. I wonder if our perspective on the battles we face would change if we started from the position of knowing we are more than conquerors.
Don’t start your battle from a position of defeat - fix your eyes on Him and know that through Christ, you are victorious. Yes, I may continue to struggle with anxiety at times, but that will not define who I am.
My identity is not rooted within a problem I have or a shortcoming that nags at me daily - my identity is rooted in the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And with news like that, I don’t need to fear tomorrow, but I can live today with faith that nothing can separate me from His love.
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of this earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”
I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
- Psalm 16:8