Several years ago, I went through a difficult season where I experience panic attacks. Being in faith-based ministry, it was hard to recognize and understand. It took me to the depths of despair and almost overwhelmed me. But, I was very fortunate to have friends, family, counsellors, and a God who longed to help me. The experience brought me into a deeper place of faith than I had ever been before. Since then, God has used that experience to give me insights and help other people going through similar problems. Recently, I wrote a letter to a friend who was struggling with some depression and it captured an 'overview' of a few things I learned in my story. I'm posting it here to help you or someone you may know that is struggling with these issues. They are NOT alone.
Wanted to share a few more things with you regarding the anxiety, panic attacks, depression or whatever else you’re going through in that vein.
First of all, as we discussed, get some medical help. Let me know how that goes. I was given a more deliberate dosage of a anti-anxiety med to get me back on track. After about 1 month, I was put on a low-dosage medicine, which I still use today even though the doctor said I probably don’t need it. Look at this way: If you had strep throat, you would get medicine. If you had a fever, you would get medicine. Your mind is a physical entity and if it’s causing you physical problems, you should get medical help. There’s nothing weak or faithless about that; no shame in getting medical advice and assistance. It’s your first step in this healing process. The reason I know that there was a chemical imbalance in my situation was that the medicine immediately cured my physical symptoms; There really was a simple chemical imbalance in my brain. Things start to break down when you get older and I was given to a familial history of anxiety and worry, which I didn’t really recognize until now. But, I’ve never struggled with anxiety or depression until now. That’s why I didn’t know what to do with it. I can’t believe no one told me to go and see a doctor!
Then, I went into counseling with a Christian Counselor. I also have an excellent friend who meets with me weekly to disciple me and work through scripture. It’s a blessing. Do you have an older/wiser person in your life that is a mentor? This guy has been a real gift from God to me…especially with not having great male role models growing up. He’s shown me how to be a better minister, man, husband and father. Although, I have to say, I’ve been a pretty good Dad. That came easy for some reason.
I have a journal of our meetings together over the course of 18 months. I met with her every week initially. She was helpful in several areas:
-Spiritual: There is a spiritual dimension of depression and anxiety that you want to get into. I’m not really sure what books to recommend here. I didn’t really find one book that was helpful. You’re looking for material on the mind as a battleground. Joyce Meyer has a book called “The Battleground of the Mind.” The foundational truth here is learning the lies you believe and where they came from so that you can get to the root of wrong thinking. First of all, the mind and your patterns of thinking are very much involved in this issue. For me, fear gripped me because I started looking to the future and feeling hopeless about my financial situation. After 25 years of faith ministry, I suddenly felt that I had to take control of things because financially, we were not going to make it. Now, why would I start thinking that after 25 years of seeing God move faithfully in my life, would I believe he would suddenly stop being faithful? Honestly, I had to unlearn-relearn about God and who HE is.
The "sin in our members” is there because of our long history living outside the “Kingdom Among Us.” By the way, I strongly recommend ANY Dallas Willard. His book, “The Divine Conspiracy” broke me. I’ve been studying it for almost 2 years with my mentor. Also, a books by James Bryant Smith were helpful; especially, “The Good and Beautiful God”. It’s part of series. The other two books are “The Good and Beautiful Life” and “The Good and Beautiful Community.” Those books is based on this very premise. How do we see God and why??? What are the lies we believe and where do they come from? Anyway, that sin in our members is strong and generates automatic responses in us that have been cultivated from years of living outside the kingdom…OR living inside the kingdom but not knowing or understand it’s power for THIS LIFE. Remember, Jesus said, “I have come so that they may have LIFE (THIS LIFE) and life abundantly.” (John 10:10) WOW. I had to rethink my automatic responses. AND that took me into the dark places!!!
Here’s a key point: God wants to use this very situation in your life to bring you into a greater understanding of HIS nature. That’s why you need to faithfully embrace what you’re going through and wrestle with it. YOU WILL BE OKAY. It’s just going to be season where you need to go through it. NOT around it. If you want the full measure of God’s blessing in your life, you will embrace this ordeal and walk through it. I can tell you for REAL, the deeper waters are life giving. A friend said to me, “Jeff, you’ve always been able to rearrange the furniture in this room. This time, God is destroying the room. He’s completely rebuilding this room from the ground up.”
In my life, pretty much everything goes back to my childhood. (This is Psychology 101, right? Everything goes back to our parents!) I had automatic responses that i used to survive back then. It was a difficult situation and my only coping mechanisms led to issues that I still carry around. But this season in my life forced me to recognize them and how it affected my relationship with God and how I viewed Him. Discipleship and spiritual disciplines are the way to disrupt the automatic responses in our lives.
(By the way, Willard’s book, “Renovation of the Heart” is the go-to book on the ideas of discipleship.)
You need someone to help you through that. I pray that you can find the right person who won’t let you sneak away with answers that you know they want to hear. Start praying for that person in YOUR life. God wants to help you through this season more than you want to help yourself.
There are other things too:
Lastly, my wife gave me the most beautiful prayer when I was struggling so much. I’ve kept and have it on my desk even today. You may want to copy it down and put it somewhere where you can pray it regularly:
Teach me to trust you when I don now know where you are going.
Help me to surrender and not turn inward into myself out of fear.
The storms and winds of life blow strongly all around me.
I cannot see in front of me.
Sometimes, I feel like I am going to drown, Lord.
But you are CENTERED. Utterly at rest and peace.
Open my eyes that I might see you are with me in the boat. I AM SAFE.
Awaken me, Jesus, to your presence within me, around me, above me, and below me.
Grant me grace to follow you into the unknown, into the next place in my journey with you.
In JESUS name. Amen.
The counselor used to ask me what I was afraid of. When she tried to get me to be as specific as possible, I said, “I’m afraid I’m going to lose my house.” Her response: “Then your house is an idol.”
Wow. What are you afraid of right now? (Verbalize that.) What is it that you are most worried about? (Verbalize that.) The answers to those questions are important to your healing. Get to that because they reveal something about how you view God and your relationship with Him.
You’re NOT alone.