Today marks roughly four months from the date when I was devastated with crippling anxiety and panic attacks that left me couchridden for a solid week, the worst I had ever had in years of anxiety, sleeplessness and struggling. If you haven’t yet read my previous post, read that first in the link above.
I had tried plenty of methods to cope with my anxiety: diet, sleeping pills, natural remedies, exercise, relaxation, video game or Netflix binges, passive prayer. Nothing consistently worked; it seemed that I was helpless to the whims of what my body decided to do. It was seemingly random – thoughts and feelings of anxiety or unease would come and go over the days and weeks, or even hours.
During that horrific anxiety-ridden week when it felt like each symptom was magnified 100 times, I kept a rough journal of what I was experiencing and learning. I’ve spent several months since then thinking on the events of that week before I began writing about it. The last thing I want to do is jump to conclusions that, viewed in the wider lens of several years removed, I may see with a different perspective; or worse, create battles in the reader’s life where there are none to be found or condemnation where there is nothing wrong. Please take both this post and the previous one with this in mind. However, I truly believe what I’ve written so far, and there are a few more things I needed to share that didn’t quite fit in the context of my previous post.
the Most Important Thing
In writing this section, I’m sure that I’ll lose a segment of readership right off the bat, and that grieves me. But I can’t apologize for it, because the fact of the matter is that I was shown in a tangible and supernatural way that Jesus is enough to overcome anxiety of any shape or kind that may threaten me. And it wasn’t anything magical or mystical. There were the guidelines, plain as day, on the pages of a book that has been misquoted, misapplied, discredited, and disparaged for thousands of years, but yet its Truth and the Person to whom it points keeps delivering and saving lives over and over again across nations, cultures, and eras–just as promised.
What made the difference for me? Taking Jesus and the Bible seriously. As in, more than trusting in Jesus for salvation from my past sins (I don’t mean that in any way flippantly). More than taking the Bible as true, but largely devoid of power to truly affect my life (just other peoples’ lives viewed from the safety of my preconceived notions). For years I’d read passages like these without blinking an eye: “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 5:4) or “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:20). I’d read hundreds of articles, suggestions, tips, or stories of how other people cope with their anxiety or related health symptoms. I’d spent scores of nights laying in bed poring over my phone, browsing for something, anything, to help me sleep. Some can help cope from time to time, but none are close to the life-changing power of Jesus and God’s Words and principles in the Bible. In one week’s time of commitment (desperate commitment, but commitment nonetheless) to studying and putting the Bible’s principles into action, I made more ground against anxiety than I had in 5 years.
Now, by “putting the Bible into action,” it wasn’t reading a chapter or two, thinking for a few minutes about what it meant, praying a nice safe prayer where I “gave God a chance to do something,” then returning to my everyday life. For me during that time it meant a complete deviation from my typical life: hours and hours of listening to Biblical teaching outside of my standard sphere, studying through the Word, meditating on what It says, and reading over and over the promises for deliverance or life change (Psalm 1:2, Joshua 1:8). Many of these principles required action on my part, oftentimes cleaning distractions out of my life and refocusing priorities on Christ. In this midst of all this, I went all-in with prayers of faith and expectancy for deliverance (James 4:7, Mark 11:23). And, wouldn’t you know it, it worked. No anxiety medication, no therapy sessions, no coping techniques. Just Jesus and the Bible.
At first, I was caught off guard when the same old anxiety tried (keyword) to reappear with a vengeance the Monday immediately following my huge victory on Saturday. As I reflect back several months later, there were several “old me” portions of my life that I still needed to eliminate, and I hadn’t had to deal with a specific weakness (story for another day) since I had missed a week of work and this was my first day back. Seeing an opening, the enemy jumped all over it (Ephesians 4:27) and tried to hit me with a panic attack. I was actually in a meeting at the time and had to excuse myself to get some privacy. Now I was very thankful for the verses I had memorized the previous week; using them, I spoke to the anxiety and panic, rebuking it. The attack subsided (amazing!), but still hung around. That evening I directly addressed the issue in my life that needed to be changed, and–humbled by this immediate reminder of where I was still weak–began the process of WWJD’ing as much of my life as I could, as fast as I could. Looking back, this life purge teetered on the brink of legalism, but I had been on the other side of Christian Liberty for so long that I can’t argue the fact that it helped.
I began praying Paul’s Ephesians 1:17 prayer, asking for wisdom and revelation to determine why I was still having struggles. The next week (April 21st-on) was another crash course in purging my life of areas that the enemy was using to get at me. For example, after about a week back at work, I was confused because every time I was driving, I would have this uncomfortable anxious feeling. It wasn’t overwhelming since I could keep it at bay by resisting it, but it was definitely there. Now, let me tell you that I typically would get so angry at people who “don’t know how to drive” or are so inconsiderate of others on the road. In my reading and studying, I came across Mark 11:25 and the parable in Matthew 18:21-35 about prayer in relation to forgiving others. I knew immediately that that’s what the problem was. I went outside, prayed over my car (yes, I really did), and confessed the anger that I sometimes felt toward others while driving. I prayed and forgave everyone who had ever cut me off or not lived up to my perfect standards of operating a motor vehicle. The next time I drove, the anxious feeling I had been having in the car was gone. And with my new perspective to keep my driving temper clean–it hasn’t come back.
I know that these stories may sound alien or preposterous to some, or needlessly hyper-spiritual to others. But I believe that after my renewed real focus on Jesus, I was a prime target for the enemy using continued sin in my life to get at me (Ephesians 4:27, Romans 6:20-21). Thankfully, “renewing my mind” was in full force and by His grace the number of these unlike-Christ parts of my life were dwindling rapidly, giving the enemy less and less to work with. That helped along with the confidence that I was not alone in my fight.
“You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
Now, why were these attacks all of a sudden so prevalent? I don’t know, but I can hazard a guess:
A Spiritual Target (i.e. the prequel)
On April 13, the night before my full-blown panic attack on April 14, I was extremely unsettled and aware of a rising sense of agitation. I felt that something was coming, but I didn’t know what. At the time, I thought that this was something that I had no control over and I panicked, making well-meaning pledges to re-commit myself to more consistent Bible reading and a concerted effort of more prayer. I committed my wife and I to pray together each and every night. I was well aware of the hypocritical fact that for months (years?) I had spent many more hours with my own hobbies and Netflix than with Whom I was asking for help. Not that God loved me any less because of this, but I certainly loved God less and didn’t have an awareness of the Spirit’s power in me like I could and should have. I concluded my earnest prayer with an honest plea: “Lord, please become more real to me.”
“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” – the prophet Jeremiah as inspired by the Holy Spirit, circa 600 B.C. (Jeremiah 29:13)
For so long I had been a complacent Christian, faithfully attending church and living the comfortable first-world American Christian lifestyle. Enjoying my hobbies, lots of useless entertainment, and not making God any real sort of priority. Just sort of a priority. The enemy–yes, the devil–was ok with that. I was acting like a pretty good Christian, but I didn’t have any sort of real, substantial relationship with Jesus and I wasn’t doing anything to make an impact for Him or share the good news of the Gospel (ironically, which I believe includes freedom from anxiety). Think that it was coincidence that I was immediately attacked with the worst symptoms and anxiety I had ever had, the morning after I earnestly decided to re-commit myself? That’s a pretty easy rhetorical question. I was already down, and a ripe target to be destroyed–and I almost was. The enemy was all-in to see me crash and burn.
If you hadn’t gathered this by now, I have begun noticing things a lot more spiritually. Not that every bad thing that happens to us is a direct attack “from the devil,” of course, but he is alive and active in the world. The world is broken and I also do a good enough job bringing things on myself.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
I don’t know anyone who would say that anxiety, fear, or panic attacks are even a neutral thing, let alone a good thing. Still, for years I had cultivated a passive acceptance of my problems while searching for ways to help me cope with them. A big reason for this was that I had been convinced that all my symptoms were completely natural and that the only way to deal with them was in natural ways. In a week’s time I shifted my perspective to an active hatred of the anxiety and a newly established abject refusal to give in to it.
“Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” – Ephesians 4:26-27
“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” Romans 12:9
Years of varying levels of anxiety and all the physical symptoms, as well as mental symptoms (fear, infatuation with the “safety” of the ER, lack of a desire to do anything) were no longer things that I was going to keep tolerating or learn better ways with which to cope. Anxiety became the enemy, something I absolutely detested. I did not and would not allow anxiety and its accompanying fear to control my life any longer.
Without Jesus, this is just a self-help presumption that may or may not work, more than likely doomed to fail and end in frustration. With Jesus, I am convinced that it is an attainable reality (and so far, it has been for 120 out of 120 days). The enemy is the father of lies (John 8:44), and one of the biggest lies that I believed for years was that these anxious symptoms were just something I had to learn how to deal with and that they were just going to be a part of my life from now on. This was a lie that kept me locked into passive prayers, inactivity, and a not-so-blissful unawareness of the very real spiritual issues causing my anxiety. The New Testament teaches of a “living and active” Word of God, a faith capable of “demolishing strongholds,” a faith in which we “overwhelmingly conquer,” a faith in which we can do “all things through Him who strengthens” us, the “surpassing greatness of His power toward us,” and that that power “works within us.” (Hebrews 4:12, 2 Corinthians 10:14, Romans 8:37, Philippians 4:13, Ephesians 1:19, Ephesians 3:20). People can argue cherry-picked verses all they want, but the amount of Biblical evidence for this life-changing deliverance available to us is overwhelming. I refused to be swayed by all the anxiety blogs and articles nowadays that mostly end in the same place: continuing to live with anxiety as “just the way it is,” or those which discount God’s delivering power through his Word. God wouldn’t have given me a command to “be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6) without the power or principles to do so. In the words of Paul, let God be found true, and every man be found a liar (Romans 3:4).
“The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 1:3b)
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Rebuilding My Routine
As I mention above, after wrapping up the worst week of my life with victory through Jesus, I had to push through a few aftershocks that required continued study in the Word, as well as continued saturation in victorious Biblical teaching and prayer. Once I was through these additional speed bumps, it was time to rebuild my life’s routine. (I intentionally did not say “get back to normal.”)
It wasn’t easy to stop the momentum of my life of self-sufficiency, comfort, good-intentioned but ultimately half-hearted commitment to Jesus, and complete commitment to the American Dream; it required work, faith, and plenty of retraining of my mind (Romans 12:2). No longer was my time with the Bible worthy of a half-hearted pledge, only to be swallowed up in the time-sucks of entertainment media or my array of income-producing hobbies. Even after just a week of committed study and meditation in the Word and earnest “Lord help my unbelief, I’m trying” prayers, my life was being changed. Over the past three months, my time in the Word has become something that I look forward to each night, a welcome grace-filled change from my years of making Bible reading and “devotions” a regimented check in the to-do box.
I began ingraining praise into every part of my life, constantly thanking God for being a good God and for everything good He has given me. Praise and worship music became my new soundtrack, abandoning the gritty, moody type of stuff that I had identified with for so long. How could anxiety thrive in an atmosphere of continual praise, thanksgiving, and knowledge of God’s love for me? In the months following my horrendous week of panic and fear, this praise concept alone did more to ward off anxiety “passively” than I ever had to “battle” actively. It’s also amazing how much time I actually had in a day to keep my thoughts on God (Joshua 1:8); prior to this, my life was “so busy!” Now, there was all kinds of time to pray or think about what I had read last night: driving in the car, getting ready for work in the mornings, waiting in line at Chipotle, or all the time opened up by my moratorium on entertainment media while being committed to renewing my mind.
the Calm After the Storm
What I’ve shared in the post are a lot of the ancillary things that I learned over the past few months. The catalyst and monument that I kept coming back to in my mind was that Saturday, April 18. That evening I won a huge victory over anxiety using principles in God’s Word through the Holy Spirit, because of what Jesus did for me. (That’s a very intentionally phrased sentence). I know that anxiety takes many different forms, but for me I was finally aware of the authority I had in Christ to engage the anxiety and fear that had left me incapacitated that week and had been a recurring weak point in my life for years. I thank God that I never needed to touch a single anti-anxiety medication, and I stopped taking my blood pressure pills before I saw a doctor (It goes without saying, but please don’t take this as any sort of medical instruction. I share this point to speak to the radical deliverance that I saw. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was delivered and that blood pressure wasn’t going to be a problem anymore). The fear I had of being alone was gone, because I wasn’t alone. Continued study in the Word progressed the unfamiliar but exciting promise of Jesus’ power through the Spirit working in me and through me (Ephesians 1:19-20, 3:20); this gave me an enormous amount of confidence. Jesus on the cross, crucified and risen again, is the only reason I can make as bold a claim as the name of this blog post. As long as I stay in the Word in thankfulness (Philippians 4:6-7), keep up my guard (Ephesians 6:10-18), and keep following Jesus as the forefront of my life (Isaiah 26:3), I have zero fear of crippling anxiety reoccurring in my life. I look forward to writing the “one year from today” or “ten years from today” post as evidence of this.