My first panic attack happened when I was sixteen years old. I was an unbeliever visiting a Christian youth meeting, where songs by the Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana were performed to draw kids in. I won’t praise the method, but the technique got me through the door.
Despite his casual approach the preacher that night breached the wall of my highly-fortified personal pet-sin. His words confronted the untouched parts of my life. Being unable to stand the pressure, I rushed to the bathroom and had my first full-on, breath-sucking panic attack.
A history of panic attacks
On another occasion, I remembered hearing it preached that anxiety was a sin. Upon arriving home, I sat down to repent. But, I pictured an angry and frustrated God, and the subject of my repentance came alive in me. I was confused. If I was trying to repent, shouldn’t God respond by taking the anxiety away? Now I had anxiety about my anxiety.
Years later, when I woke up after major stomach surgery, I found anxiety was shrouding me like a wet blanket. I quickly asked my husband Brent to read me the Psalms, but the terror grew anyways. Maybe it was because the room had been spinning for days, or from nausea, or other nasty side effects from the drugs seeping into my veins. Or perhaps from sharing a room with five strangers, without fresh air, and the man who shared the ceiling light refused to turn it off at night and violently threw things at the nurses. I don’t know. But the panic overcame me then.
Brent ran for the nurses, who came with oxygen, and my tears flowed freely, as embarrassment contended to take me on for round two. Thankfully, Brent had learned this pattern, and kept saying, “you have nothing to be embarrassed about.”
There are times when panic seems reasonable, but there are other times when the sufferer’s mind comes unhinged for irrational causes. Though I know it makes no logical sense, I still find myself being a desperate heap on the floor.
We who face these moments are perhaps too delicate. Or, perhaps we have faced trauma that our minds and bodies could not endure. Whatever the reason: is the peace of God unattainable for us, who suffer this imploding of our minds and strength?
How did Jesus talk to anxious people?
In Matthew 6:25–34, Jesus addressed those who worry about clothing, lifespan, and food. He encouraged them by saying, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
Peter also told us to cast “all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7).
If there is any simple truth to cling to when we are mounted by anxiety, it is these two words: Jesus cares.
He cares whether we are worrying out of a lack of faith, panicking over something utterly ridiculous, are genuinely triggered by past trauma, or frightened by a real threat crouched before our eyes. Not all anxiety is the result of incessant worrying. Those who suffer from anxiety disorders know that oftentimes its presence skulks around your chest for seemingly no reason at all. Regardless of the cause, Jesus cares. If you forget this, you’re already sunk, and nothing will raise your head above the swamp and wipe the sludge from your eyes.
Jesus tells us not to be anxious or worry, not because he is frustrated with us, but because we have no reason to worry since we are safe and tended to in his loving care. He doesn’t turn his back on the brokenhearted or mentally troubled. Anxious and fearful people may receive commands and even rebukes from Jesus when fitting, but it is essential that we believe he does so with the greatest gentleness, lowness of heart, value and care, reminding you of his listening ear, and available peace to guard both your heart and your mind (Philippians 4:7).
When I panicked in my hospital bed, do you think the Lord stood over me ready to dish out rebukes, telling me to pull it together and get a grip? Or was he ready to give comfort, speak words of peace, and use this opportunity to help me to learn to have “a calmed and quieted soul, like a child with his mother” (Ps 131:2)? Is it possible that this weaning of my soul, this kind of contented satisfaction during every test being something learned through flailing, groping, and at last finding that God has always been right there, no matter how we twisted and turned? The shaking and unrest of my soul could be used to mould me when it is surrendered into God’s hands.
True peace is in the Prince of Peace
True peace is only ever found in the Prince of Peace, and if we fail to believe that he generously offers peace to the anxious, even taking their anxiety upon himself, how will we ever truly shed the weight of anxiety? How will we trust him? If we believe that anxiety, depression, or troubled minds somehow separate us from God and we need to muster up some kind of peace from within ourselves to be made right with him again, how will we ever find the peace that can only come from him? Surely, we will never find it in ourselves!
When you are anxious, Jesus wants you to recall that he knows every hair on your head, he clothes the fields with flowers, and feeds hungry little birds, and of course, he is not going to forget you. If instead, you sit down in your fear, thinking that it has driven you away from God’s side and left you an outcast, how in the world will you experience God’s remedial peace?
It is better to let your anxiety drive you to hide in the vine that is Christ your Saviour than to nurse it by examining all the complexities and disturbances of yourself, seeking either to defend or loathe yourself. If God can use all things for good, that must also include anxiety. Here are what God requires of you: humbly approach to him, , plead for help, and trust God despite your feelings. Consider these verses:
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps 51:17).
“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not quench” (Matt 12:20).
Jesus Nurtures and cares for the anxious. He lifts their head, calms their fears, and gives them courage. He prunes the rotting branches and causes the weak to bear fruit. Dear struggling saints, you have every reason to hope, and even in your suffering, to rejoice.