I had my first panic attack in 2008. At the time, I thought I was having a heart attack, because some signs suggested it, like a crushing sensation on my chest, and short breaths. But subsequent check-ups both then, and over the years, including stress tests, electrocardiograms, and lab results all came back normal.
Nobody back then thought it might be tied to an anxiety disorder. It was. And it was visiting me often. One time I had an event that lasted for months, every single day. Finally it became clear that a combination of self-imposed work regimen, and body chemistry were teaming up on me.
I hated finding that out. Anxiety seems like just another word for being scared, and most of those days, I wasn’t cognizant of being afraid of anything at all. The real problem was what I was doing with pressure. Apparently, I had been in the habit of internalizing it, and tucking it away. I hadn’t wanted to take the time to process it, and never thought that maybe these repressed concerns would create unwanted psi in my soul.
Not only did that happen, but my soul transferred it right onto my chest. There it stayed, waiting to be vented in some meaningful kind of way.
In an interesting twist, during those years of dealing with my condition, I visited these famous verses in Philippians chapter 4 a number of times:
6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
They didn’t work. Peace didn’t come.
I figured Paul must have oversold the benefits of prayer.
The thing is, almost every time I had gone to these passages, it was to study them so I could preach them, not practice them. Others of us have memorized them, recommended them, converted them into memes, framed them, or gotten tattoos of them, also without practicing them.
For instance, we may have a habit of making our requests known, but not to God. Everyone in our family, or in our church, has heard about our worries, and complaints—except the One Person who could do something about it.
Secondly, we are supposed to make our requests known, not our demands. Paul makes no promises that peace would come from knowing you would get what you want. Rather, peace comes from knowing you will have left your requests in the hands of One who knows what to do, whether He answers, “Yes,” “No,” “Wait,” or “I’ve got something better.”
Thirdly, the answer occurs at the level of heart and mind. You are not sending a request by email to someone on Easter Island, who may or may not have the time to see it, or the inclination to answer. You are speaking to someone mouth-to-ear. He answers mouth-to-heart.
With the practice of prayer as my bedrock, I’ve gone on to learn more about dealing with anxiety through management of diet, rest, exercise, and not abiding in thoughts that go from zero to Godzilla in sixty seconds.
However, the sheer abundance of Bible verses that deal with worries, and fears run amuck, make it obvious that for the most part, we can hardly classify anxiety as a special “condition.” Human beings, including the strongest Christians, can enter seasons of spiritual paralysis and sleepless nights.
Yes, including the man who wrote Philippians 4:6-7. The one who said, “Do not be anxious in anything,” also wrote about “the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28).
There are no free passes. It looks like everyone has to learn.