My decision to be re-baptized is a decision that I never regret. I will never forget the inner peace I felt as I came up from the water after making my public declaration of my inward commitment to follow Christ for the rest of my life. This commitment however worthwhile has not come without its costs, or what is also called in the Bible a “cross.” Perhaps the most challenging cross I have had to bear is a recent experience I have had with panic attacks, which led me to question whether I was really a true hearted Christian.
I could not understand why after fully giving my heart to God He would allow me to suffer the humiliation and uncertainty of having an anxiety attack on the job. It did not matter where I was, in public or private, I would find myself having an anxiety attack. The tidal waves of panic that washed over me several times a day at any given time and without warning left me feeling helpless and out of control. To make matters worse, I did not know the cause of the sudden onset of anxiety that I was feeling and was not able to articulate it to a therapist. I decided that I would simply seek to learn as much as I could about my condition and if possible, overcome it naturally. Today I thankfully can say that I have experienced victory. The healing process was not an overnight one (three years long) and stricken with perils to the Christian seeker after God. Nevertheless, through my journey I came to understand Christ in a way I never was able to before. I saw Him as a sufferer along with me as I carried my daily cross, and I learned several valuable lessons that I believe He would like me to share with any fellow believer who suffers from out of control anxiety.
Lesson 1: You are not better or worse than anyone else
In measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves among themselves they are not wise (2 Corinthians 10:12). One of the great dangers we face in the Christian walk is concentrating on our faults more than on our Savior. From the way that we at times are interacted with in society, it is tempting to believe that our status as anxiety sufferers places us in a class all of its own –a class of sinners or people who are especially struggling in faith. When I entered a grocery store or a church lobby and totally blanked out in thought, it was tempting to allow thoughts of “they must have it all together,” or “why can’t I just fix my spiritual walk” to fill my mind. But these thoughts came not from a place of a desire to serve Christ or even necessarily others around me, but out of feelings of being somehow less successful of a Christian compared to others on account of my panic attacks. I was being tempted to measure success not by the standard of integrity Christ set for me while suffering humiliation on my behalf, but by the standards of society. It was only as I began to talk of my status as a believer in Christ that I discovered that many who seemed to have it all together were just as broken as I was, if not more. Never allow self-pity to drive you to believe that God has dealt unfairly with you during your anxiety. Count it an honor to suffer for Christ’s sake, and believe in His power to grant victory while viewing your humiliations in comparison only to what He suffered.
Lesson 2: Draw closer, not further from the brethren
I suffered keenly from a desire to withdraw from society until I was “better.” This was especially the case when my panic attacks were still occurring at a high frequency. The anxiety would trigger other embarrassing symptoms like stiffness and slurred speech that I felt would be perceived as unbecoming for someone with as much experience in public speaking as I had. I constantly worried about how others would view me, and then worried that I was worried about that. It is easy to get caught into a cycle of worrying, especially in our society when seeming worried about things like work, school, or familial responsibilities can be perceived as virtue. Constant worrying can be especially crippling to a person suffering for an anxiety disorder, and requires special attention, not just from a therapist, but as I have come to understand, from “the brethren.”
The brethren is a Biblical term used to refer to our brothers and sisters in the faith. One may question the wisdom or even the possibility in some instances of continuing to attend church functions while suffering from an anxiety disorder, treated or untreated, due to the very real possibility of being looked down upon. Nevertheless, Jesus councils “come unto me all ye who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28, 29).” This rest Jesus is offering is not in inaction, but in the obedient act of coming to Him, and learning to heed His voice. A view of the brethren that may help those who have been hurt in past church experiences is one given in the Bible of the church being His body of fellowship that we are told not to forsake (Hebrews 10:25). There within the body of believers are people who suffer with ailments differing from our own, but are seeking healing through a relationship with God as we are. By interacting with them we learn not to be absorbed in our own struggles with anxiety, but to invest in others who are also struggling to achieve the same goal of oneness with Christ. In the body of Christ we find a hospital where we receive blessings from Christ and others while serving as God’s healing hands to others. Here we discover that we are not alone, but are accepted just as we are.
Lesson 3: You remain precious in God’s sight even when you are anxious
Faith we must remember is not a feeling, but a reality we accept based on Scriptural evidence. Because the nature of anxiety disorders is that they only worsen the more we try to correct ourselves, it is easy to let the lying voice of pride tell us we are not worthy of acceptance. In a society of putting one’s best foot forward and faking it till you make it, one may find it a unique challenge to be in a position where they are unable to mask their weaknesses. As someone who had been active in the church prior to encountering what I have come to realize as being an illness that causes surges of anxiety, it was hard to continue to attend church and do outreach for Christ while feeling looked down upon. I had the additional problem of having experienced defamation on a very wide-spread level (subject for a future blog), that challenged my feelings of self-worth all the more as I bore with my anxiety attacks. What helped me to press on was the time I spent meditating on Christ’s love for me. Through scripture I discovered that it was not God who was sending the scornful looks in my direction or causing me to experience rejection, defamation, or panic attacks. I experienced comfort as I read the promises found in Isaiah 54 and 55, which tell about God’s willingness to pardon my sins if I confess them and to forget them so that He may bless me rather than punish me. The unforgiving treatment I realized was not a reflection of how God felt about me, but a real issue in life that He desired for me to learn to deal with, with His help. God wants us not to run from our anxieties, but in His strength to confront them. It does not matter who we are or what we have done, or if we experience panic during our day. We can find reassurance through resting our head upon His caring bosom. Though we may not feel Him near during a panic attack we can hold onto the promise by faith “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” and continue living for Christ as we seek for solutions to our anxiety disorders, or whatever other challenges we are facing in life.
It is the troubles that arise as we struggle to maintain relationships that often drive us to anxiety. But when we experience healing through discovering in Christ all that we have been seeking in a relationship we find strength to overcome our anxieties. It is crucial that we do not place freedom from anxiety as a priority over being able to facilitate healthy relationships. The broken promises and hurts of the past lead us to struggle to trust the Lord in certain areas of our lives. At times we do not even know what it means to trust God. If I were to summarize all of the lessons that I have learned during my three years of battling anxiety, it is that of trusting in the Lord even with critical things like early childhood trauma, religious persecution, or health challenges.
Today I continue to struggle with my health. The issues that have arisen from the slandering of my name have led to many difficulties in my social interactions. I have even found myself being assaulted by the use of spyware. I nevertheless am thankful to God that I no longer suffer from anxiety attacks. Whenever I feel alone I lean on Him for support. I continue to assemble with fellow believers in Christ and meditate on His love for me even when I do not feel Him near. I continue to hold on to the belief that Christ has accepted me, and loves me just as much as I felt He did on the day of my baptism. I find courage to live unashamed of my cross by looking at His. I pray that you will too.