It’s dark in here. It’s lonely. I’m trapped. I’m hiding from vulnerability and sometimes even from honesty. It’s suffering to stay, but what will happen if I open up the door? I don’t want anyone to know and to see me naked…broken…helpless…needy. I spend my days trying to convince myself and everyone else that I am free, but the frustrating fact is that I am not.
Is it sin that keeps me here? Maybe so. Maybe sinful strongholds that have been built since before I even took my first steps. Thought patterns. Relationship patterns. Guilt patterns. Patterns of broken trust. Things that I could not control, but were quite happy to take control of me. From a very young age, the world proved to me that it was not a stable, safe, happy place…and I believed it with all my heart. I spent my early years pacing floors all night long…terrified to the pit of my stomach…wondering what was wrong with me. I couldn’t and didn’t eat a lot, especially at night. I remember finding a way to get out of dinner as much as I could. Maybe the less food on my stomach, the less it would scream threats at me later that it was coming back up. I didn’t have an eating disorder, but you probably wouldn’t have believed me back then. I was always afraid. It was an underlying, subconscious state of alertness that would never let go. I rarely felt safe, even though I didn’t take risks. I did everything I could not to get in trouble. I rarely spent the night away from home, even my grandparents had to bring me back home in the middle of the night. I was tormented most days and even more nights.
When I didn’t “grow out of it”, it became a spiritual war. I spent many nights begging God to take it away…to make me normal…to set me free. People from our church were called to come lay hands on me…”maybe it is demonic oppression” they said…cause that doesn’t make it scarier at all. I read my Bible out of pure terror that I had done something to really make God mad and that’s why He had afflicted me. Yet I still kept knocking, seeking, asking that He would open the door and let me out. If the Bible was true, how could I still be locked in this horrible closet? How could this be God’s good plan for me?
Fast forward to young adulthood. I graduated from high school, got married, and was pregnant with my first child, all within a year and a half. The first horrible panic attack that I remember happened on my wedding day as I stood outside the soon to open doors leading to a lifelong commitment. Everything within me screamed “RUN”! And I know it is only by the grace of God that I was able to walk down that aisle. The next introduction to panic came on the plane to our honeymoon in Mexico. I had only flown a few times, but I liked flying. However, this time I was in the middle of complete life change and two large men who took up all the space. I spent most of the flight in the tiny bathroom trying not to jump out of the plane. Panic was my constant adversary when I became pregnant with Jordan. I became trapped in a cycle of full fledged anxiety disorder that I did not know how to get out of. I didn’t know one thing about anxiety or panic, and I just kept thinking that I was going crazy and they were going to have to lock me in a real closet somewhere.
When I read some of the Psalms…the ones where David talks about his tears being his pillow and crying out to God day and night…I start to think that maybe David had panic attacks. Maybe he knew exactly how it feels to feel pretty good one minute and the next truly believe you are dying…how it makes you want to run for your life as you, at the same time, realize that you would be taking the threat with you because it’s inside of you. Maybe he felt the terror of adrenaline that sweeps up until you can’t breathe and makes you pray that God will just take you home so you can be relieved of the suffering. There have been days that I have believed that hell doesn’t need fire, it could do it’s damage with anxiety and panic.
By the time I was 23, I had two children under the age of two. David had started a company and was not around very much. I was a wreck. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what I was doing. I was living 24/7 in a nightmare of anxiety that I didn’t even know was anxiety. I just thought I was worthless…that I was weak…that I was a horrible mom that couldn’t handle life. I would torment myself with my really good imagination as I crawled my way through the day doing everything that I could to hold on to reality. I had weeks and months that I could not function. I would do the bare minimum to care for my kids and sit reading my Bible or pacing the day away. God would send me little messages of hope that I could barely hear throughout that time, but it was enough to keep me going. It was in this period that the internet was really becoming more accessible and research could be done from my computer. I began to try to figure out what was wrong with me. I came across a secular program on anxiety that gave me some answers. I went to the doctor who wanted to put me on medication. But taking this kind of medication, at my church, was unbelief. It would mean that I was turning my back on faith and on God. It would seal what I had believed all along…that I was not fit for the Kingdom. After all, God says “Do not fear…” “Be anxious for nothing…” so how could I reconcile that I was living all of my life in fear and still be God’s child?!
I didn’t take the medicine. I wanted with all my heart to live in faith. I wanted to please God. I didn’t want to displease Him even if it meant that I lived like that the rest of my life. I begged Him to kill me. I truly wanted to die and go to heaven. I felt like I was not doing anyone any good and that I was even detrimental to the lives of those I loved the most. I felt like a failure as a believer. How could I possibly help anyone else when I couldn’t even help myself? The devil was truly trying to destroy me and I have no other explanation for why I am here today, but that God has a plan for me and He kept sending me enough hope to keep going.
I suffered on and off for YEARS just finding new ways to cope with the suffering. I tried all kinds of things…anything natural that I could find that would help…anxiety programs, supplements, breathing exercises, books…the list is long. There were seasons when I would do nothing but fast and pray and read my Bible…some nights the only way I could fall asleep would be to hug my Bible against my chest. I went through two brutal miscarriages…one which almost killed me and required a blood transfusion. It was after my second miscarriage when my body literally began living in a state of full on panic that I asked for medicine again. The only reason I did not feel like God would condemn me for it is because I had heard Sheila Walsh’s story about her clinical depression and how she was on meds that she would have to take for the rest of her life. Yet God was using her. He was bringing fruit from her story. Slowly my fear that I was in danger of hell fire if I succumbed to medication for a mental problem subsided. I took the meds because I wanted a better life for the people I was responsible for. And slowly they began to stabilize me enough to live. I still had anxiety and I still even had panic, but it was manageable for the first time in a long time.
However, the medicine was not a magic pill. Along with anxiety and panic, it also took most all of my emotion. I realized that God had made me extra emotional and sensitive and imaginative for a reason. I can relate to suffering people. He has given me words in due season. My greatest weakness was the conduit for His strength. The medicine took the edge off of all of it…and eventually it became more of a thief than a helper. It was not the answer, but it was the reprieve I needed to get stronger in some areas of wrong thought patterns and beliefs and to jump out of the cycle I was stuck in.
I came off the medicine when God made a way and to this day I live while “coping” with the brokenness of my amygdala. I keep my struggles hidden away from curious onlookers and prying eyes, because I fear the judgment, not of the lost…but of my own brothers and sisters in Christ. I know that I am weak. I know that I am broken. I am faced with my brokenness every. single. day. I used to be a Christian who would not admit that to myself or anyone else. I didn’t want to dishonor Christ. I needed to find perfection or at least “fake it til I make it”. I thought maybe that the reason I struggled because I wasn’t acceptable to God at all. I think that some of us believe that when we receive Christ, we automatically become walking Bibles…we end up using Christ as a tool for self-righteousness. After all, we aren’t broken any more…we found the “fix” for all of life’s problems…and we need to give off the appearance of “fixed” so we can evangelize effectively. And truthfully, Christ IS the fix. He is perfection for us. His Word IS the answer. But we still live in broken bodies…we still live with broken minds…we still live in a broken world. We are not home yet. Until we truly see our brokenness, we can never appreciate the mercy of Jesus on that cross. We can never realize that NONE of our righteousness comes from self…NONE. Righteousness all belongs to Him and He, incredibly, freely lavishes it upon us. The more broken we realize we are, the more mercy we can receive. The less broken we admit to being, the less mercy we have access to. He comes for the sick, not the well. Our brokenness is really our biggest blessing, because when we ask Him into it, He shows up STRONG.
Is my struggle with anxiety sin? I don’t know. I wrestle with this question more than all others. Much of the time, I feel like a victim of my own mind and body. The war rages so violently some days that I feel like I am fighting a monster trying to tear me apart. I have tried a whole lot of things to change this part of me…most of all and first of all, prayer and Scripture and meditation on Christ and anything else that I can do to become a woman of faith, not fear. I know what the Bible says about anxiety, so I am constantly working to shine brighter and brighter in this area, but also not even sure what that looks like…especially on days when I literally shake while doing the simplest of tasks. It brings much guilt and shame with it, this cross. While I want to be a great woman of faith, I am daily battling fear just to do things like take my kids to school. But I DO fight…God knows I fight. I surpass my perceived limitations each and every day. I do things often that scare me to death that no one else would ever in a million years think of as “brave”. I keep living and serving and searching for more of God. I try to use what He has taught me through all of this for His Name and for His glory. I don’t define myself or let anyone else define me by this fear…much of the reason that I don’t share it often with others. I am also well aware of who I am and what I am without Christ, so it is never flippant when I tell you that anything good in me comes from Him…anything brave…anything said boldly…anything that speaks to your heart…it’s not from this scared mouse of a girl. I have experienced the Comforter up close and personally, and He is all that He says He is.
But I’ll be honest. I get exhausted too. I get tired of trying to live up to the “I have it all together in Christ” expectations. Of making excuses for myself because I fail the man made expectations so often. Of looking completely healthy, but feeling completely sick so often. Of wondering if I open the closet of my life if anyone would refrain from judging long enough to try to understand…I meet so few people willing to step out of their own experience of life into someone else’s, let alone put judgement aside. I get tired of wondering if I would lose “face” or “friends”…wondering if people would continue to be encouraged by my words and hear the Voice of Living Hope in them or if anxiety and panic would take that from me too.
So I write this morning…to spurn the devil who far too often has the upper hand. I write to encourage those that live in their own closet, afraid to come out, afraid to ask for help, afraid to reveal what really drives them to do what they do or don’t do. I have hesitated to share this part of me with the world because I don’t think bringing something to light necessarily needs to be an open revelation to the public. I think that you can just as effectively find a counselor…or a friend…or a pastor…or a support group to help you walk your path. But I have isolated myself in this for far too long under the accusations that “noone will understand. You will be judged. You will be talked about. You will be disappointing.” And maybe all of that will be true, but this morning I felt like it was time to punch the devil in the face for the constant accusation. GREATER IS HE THAT IS IN ME.
This morning I drove by fields ripe with some kind of green vegetable that has been growing for months now. In the middle of the field was a tractor with a plow on the back of it. It was plowing up all of the vegetables and mixing them back into the soil. I was flabbergasted thinking “what a waste of good planting time! Why aren’t they harvesting something?” God spoke to my heart, “some seasons of growth are not meant for fruit. They are meant to make the soil richer so that the next season can produce better fruit.”
There are some things in our broken lives that we will never understand. They will never make sense to us or to the world around us. There are things that we will spend time working through, fighting, struggling with, suffering for that are not our choice or our fault…things that seem like a futile waste of God given time…but they were planted there to grow anyway. If we will humbly bring those fields of suffering to Him, God will come along with His plow and He will rip those things up and mix them back into the soil to make it richer for the next season of planting that He has planned out in our lives. He doesn’t waste ANY suffering that is allowed to afflict His children. It all works toward an ultimate harvest.
So there it is. I’m out of the closet. I might still wrestle with a broken mind and body, but I am ready to do it out in the light.
“Shout for joy, you heavens! Earth, rejoice! Mountains break into joyful shouts! for the Lord has comforted His people and will have compassion on His afflicted ones.” Isaiah 49: 13
(I strongly recommend reading the entire chapter of Isaiah 49 if any of this has resonated in your heart.)