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Panic Attacks and Anxiety in the light of Grace

Ready to dive straight in? We're taking a risky jump in to vulnerable waters becuase my heart is passionate about seeing an honest and open world, starting with myself, with all parts of life, even online.  

In the past couple months, I’ve been heavy laden with many deep thoughts about the state of the world, the people that occupy it, the hate and hurt that they carry and often force on others. I have a ton of questions that are far beyond my capacity to understand, or even ask for that matter. And this isn’t new for me. I’ve always been the “old soul” and “far beyond her years” and FLIIIIIP ME do I sometimes wish I wasn’t “that” girl. Seriously! The value of ignorance is most definitely bliss, and when the weight of the world starts to trouble my heart I begin to wonder what frolicking my way through the field of ignorance must feel like! My mind imagines it to be a little like the field scene from Shrek…

But if you know the scene, you’ll know that shortly after that pitchforks start flying at them. And those pitchforks are the reality of knowing and seeing the crap of the world that God never intended for in the first place. And just as His heart breaks over suffering, sometimes mine does too. And although this makes me ‘real’ in the same way most other people face this same problem, here is why I believe my carrying this extra ‘weight’ isn’t an accurate example of a life following Jesus.

My recent experience of panic attacks, increased anxiety, an influx of insecurities resulting in overwhelming emotions that are often rooted in fear is in no way desired by anyone. Why would anyone who doesn’t know Jesus -but knows me- look at my life and think, “Gosh, I want that!” Yes, we are not called to be perfect. And yes, we are called to ‘come as we are’ aaaand yes, Jesus does love me anyway. But, personally, I think sometimes Christians (obviously including myself) have used ‘come as we are/Jesus loves me anyway’ as a crutch to never go through the transformative impact that experiencing God’s love has. So when it says in the bible, “do not be anxious for anything” and I am still a ball of anxiety, crippled in the corner unable to love God and the people around me well because I am too fixed on my own issues, then yes, I am a bad example of a Christian.

I think a big part of this ‘weight’ I carried was my ‘ignorant’ attempt to follow Jesus and His way of life. Of course, while in the pursuit of living this out, I failed daily. Of course, I am not Jesus and no one was expecting me to be, except for the unrealistic pressure I was putting on myself through cycles of striving, guilt, and judgment. I had zero tolerance for my own mistakes and on a subconscious level that resulted in constantly beating myself up for my imperfections – manifesting in panic attacks. Makes sense right? And definitely doesn’t sound like following Jesus at all.

Although I know 2 Corinthians 12:9 well, “My strength is made perfect in your weakness” I was saying and praying it in my head but never letting it really sink into the deepest corners of my heart. Knowing that no matter the struggles we face, the mess we are in, or the rollercoaster of emotions we feel, we ALWAYS have access to a joy that doesn’t rely on ‘happiness’ because it is a gift that is given to us freely and straight from the hand of God.

Clearly, my knowledge was not understanding. And in the spirit of honesty, I’m still not entirely sure I understand, but what I am sure of is my openness to the process that needs to take place in order for me to understand. I believe that sometimes the mystery of God and his crazy ways makes the most sense in the ‘not knowing’ and just like I’ve already said, ignorance is bliss, and of course God wants us to live a life of bliss! If I knew the answers to some of my questions, I’d most probably break.

So as I surrendered my questions and the weight that wasn’t mine to carry in the first place, I tried to realign myself with the main thing. Living the life that Jesus wants me to live. I began reading the Gospel of Mark from the beginning because I had heard on a Podcast recently that Mark was “a bit of an emotional roller coaster at times”, and jokes aside, I totally relate, so I thought Mark’s perspective would be a good one to dive in to.

I didn’t get very far when his words, “The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the Sabbath”(Mark 2:27), came out of left field and whacked my soul so hard I couldn’t help but laugh out loud and spill my coffee all over my white duvet. He goes on to say “…The son of man is no servant to the Sabbath. He’s in charge”... We all know that Jesus broke the rules of the ‘religious’ people at the time and that he loved to get cozy with the ‘misfits and the rebels‘ (msg version) but somehow this simple scripture, was in complete reverse to anything I was living in as I became aware of the fact that I was a slave to the law, to ticking boxes that made me ‘good’ and ‘worthy’ of all the blessings and favour I have over my life, because as if I believed that without ticking those boxes, I was unworthy of the blessings?!

The explanation in my study Bible had me laughing in sheer delight when I continued to read, “Jesus and David (another good story in 1 Samuel 21:1-6) understood that God created the Sabbath for our benefit; we are restored both physically and spiritually when we take time to rest and to focus on God.

For the Pharisees, Sabbath rules had become more important than Sabbath rest.

But Jesus and David understood that the intent of God’s law was to promote love for God and for others.”

…READ THAT AGAIN. The law is to promote LOVE for God and for others. Which leads me to think of a scripture most Christians are well versed in (Matthew 22:36-40)

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

And just like that, I saw the simplicity of it again. Never seeking to understand the last sentence, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” If all law hangs on the first two? Then that means the law serves love. Not the other way around. This is the joy that looks like running-through-a-field-like-Shrek. And it is found in understanding LOVE.

Another popular one amongst Christians; “I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.” Romans 8:39

Whenever I read this I always thought of ‘bad stuff’ can’t separate me, but Paul is very specific in mentioning both the ‘high’ and the ‘low’… So I wonder if sometimes we let even what is perceived to be good, act as barriers to experiencing God’s? All I was doing was trying to #livingmybestlife (ha ha) for Jesus, and without realizing it fell into a massive pit of guilt, shame, judgment and striving.

So back to us not being servants to the law but to love, my bible had this note on the verse: “The Christian faith involves many rules that are meant to be governed by love. That makes love the highest rule, but it also moves Christians toward personal sacrifice, discipline, and responsibility. Scarce resources in today’s world.” Which goes back to what I was saying in the beginning of this post, letting love’s transformative power into our lives to refine us… And then trying to manage the tension between the two, because no amount of striving or us trying will change us or make us perfect, only the love God has for us will do that.

Back to the note, here are the questions it suggests to ask when yourself when faced with ‘rules’; “1. Does this rule serve God’s purpose?2. Does the rule reveal God’s character?3. Does the rule help people get into God’s family, or does it keep them out?4. Does the rule have biblical roots that can be supported in the context of all the scripture? Good rules pass all four tests.”

I am not sharing this because I understand it all, I’m only just beginning to uncover it, and I get the feeling that it might take me the rest of my life to fully pursue understanding all that God’s love has for me. But right now, today and tomorrow, here is what I am going to be conscious of,

  • Understanding that God’s law is here to serve us.
  • To increase the love we have for the Father and for our neighbours.
  • To ensure that we live life to the absolute full by embracing delight (and all the comes with that) like never before.
  • To know in my heart that law has no condemning power over us. This means no guilt, no shame, and most definitely no fear of the future.
  • What a revelation! What a delight! What freedom to live in the fullness of joy! To live out this life that is far more attractive, the life Jesus wants for all of us. The life that people who don’t know Jesus might start wanting too…

So here it is, my weakness, made perfect by His strength and prayerfully hoping it meets you wherever you are reading this – but just like His love – doesn’t leave you there.

and as always, may you never lose your wander!

Ash xxx