Jesus, my Prince of Peace • part 2
I am amazed when I consider that once the stronghold of fear was identified in my life, things seemed to get worse before they got better.
My panic attacks increased to three to five every day. The results ranged from simply having to leave class because I felt like the air had been sucked out of the room to total incapacitation and being bedridden, limbs feeling like concrete blocks that wouldn’t have moved if I begged them.
The usual feeling was that of a downward spiral: something would trigger me and I would launch into the thought-pattern similar to the one outlined in my last post, usually culminating with fear of either passing out, or dying, or being close to dying and feeling pain.
I began to become more aware of the fact that the panic attacks always ended…which sounds obvious, but as I journaled and paid attention to triggers and thought patterns, I began to see that something always intervened. In the middle of the spiral, an intervention was critical to break into the “crazy” and incite movement out of the attack.
Sometimes it was a song that came on my iPod, a lyric that held a reminder that God was with me, or that He was near, or that He was trustworthy and faithful. I would cling to a phrase, a line, or even a verse and repeat it to myself over and over until I felt calmer.
Other times, relief came in the form of an interruption – a phone call, an email alert, or my roommate saying something to me from the bunk above my bed.
One experience I will never forget was a particularly awful attack that happened one night after dinner. I can’t recall what the trigger was, but I ended up in my bed, overcome by negative and circular thoughts. I knew I needed to open my mouth and pray out loud, even ask my roommate if she would pray for me, but I felt completely paralyzed. My heart pounded harder and harder and faster and faster and the fear felt like a looming cloak that would shroud me, hide me from help, overtake me forever. My eyes were squeezed shut and I don’t know how much time passed.
All of a sudden, there was a knock at the door. It opened and I turned my head, seeing my friend Marissa opening it. She had come to remind me of a study session we had for class that evening; it was starting right now, and was I coming?
And just like that, the fear was gone. A switch had flipped and I stood up, gathered my notes and textbook and followed her into the hallway. As I moved, I had the clear and distinct thought, That was You, God. You just rescued me.
God had used my friend and the perfect timing of a study session I’d forgotten about to break into the ominous attack and get me out of the prison of my mind.
Many, many times He rescued me just like that, and those moments always moved me to gratitude. But the worst wasn’t over yet.
In the middle of that first semester of sophomore year, I met with an inner-healing counselor at my church. That hour proved to be the single-most powerful experience in the early journey of overcoming the struggle with anxiety.
The space was dimly lit by two lamps in opposite corners of the small room. I sat down in a comfortable leather chair, taking deep breaths and relishing the profound peace I sensed there. The counselor asked me what I had come for; I shared that I had anxiety and that I wanted freedom from it. In quiet tones, she led me through prayers that connected me to the Lord in a way that helped me to hear His voice speaking truth to my heart. But first, I had to dismantle the lies that I had been believing.
Much of that hour has been lost from my memory but I will never forget a particularly significant moment. The counselor had prompted me to ask Jesus, What lie am I believing about this spiritual battle? Immediately, this thought entered my mind: That I am fighting by myself.
As I spoke the lie out loud, my eyes filled with tears as the loneliness and daily struggle I had felt over the past two months flooded back into my conscious. In my mind’s eye, I saw a picture of myself as a little girl, surrounded by thick darkness. I was wearing rags, and held a huge sword in my hand. I didn’t have the strength to lift it. I looked over to my right and in the distance saw Jesus. He stood watching me, seeing me cower in fear and struggle to lift the sword to wield its power against the unseen evils that swirled around me.
I sobbed, realizing that this image was what I believed to be true: He was far from me, unwilling or unable to help and rescue.
I shared what I was seeing with the counselor and she prompted me to ask Jesus if that was a lie, or if it was true. I knew immediately that it was a lie.
Ask Him what the truth is, then.
Before I had finished speaking the question aloud, the vision changed in my mind. I became aware that Jesus was standing in front of me, large and powerful. I was hidden underneath the back of his robe that flowed around me, but could see through him as though he were transparent. He had taken the sword from my hands and as I stood and watched, He wielded it masterfully, vanquishing the foes around us in the darkness. We were surrounded in light, and I was in awe and amazed. A verse from the book of Exodus popped into my mind, spoken by Moses to the children of Israel right before God parted the Red Sea before them: “Stand back and see the salvation of the Lord.”
Ask Him to speak the truth to you.
I am always fighting for you.
More lies dismantled, more truths revealed and received, and half a box of tissues later, I felt an inner peace that I had never experienced before.
But the hard work was just beginning.
I learned after the conclusion of that prayer session that the Lord – though always fighting for me – had given me an arsenal to fight with alongside Him. He longed for me to join Him in this fight, to teach me of the strength that is available to me and to empower me to be victorious over the enemy of fear that sought to conquer me and render me powerless.
The weapons of choice were Worship and the Word.
Anxiety, as a disease of the mind, keeps the anxious one focused on themselves. It keeps one’s awareness and consciousness on their body, their mind, and their soul. Worship is the one practice that never fails to get my mind and attention off of myself and onto the One where it belongs.
I made a playlist of songs on my iPod and titled it “Truth”. The songs were either scriptures set to music or contained lyrics that spoke of the attributes of God that I needed desperately to believe and cling to.
You are my Shield
My Strength, my Portion, Deliverer
My Shelter, Strong Tower, my Very Present Help in time of need. (¤)
Night time seemed the most difficult for me and was when I was most susceptible to panic. I would fall asleep with my earbuds in and that playlist on repeat. When I woke up with a rapid heart rate, the first thing I would hear was powerful truth in my ears. I would force my brain to listen to the lyrics, and mentally repeat them along with the music. Soon, peace would flood me again as I focused my attention on Jesus; eventually, I would be able to go back to sleep.
Another thing I did was to look up about fifteen scriptures that related to Peace. Since I usually felt heavy and immovable during a panic attack, I found that there was no strength to open my Bible, even if the verses were clearly marked. So I wrote the scriptures on notecards and taped them to the underside of my roommate’s bunkbed. I put those cards in places where all I would have to do was open my eyes and read them over and over to bring my mind back to a place of believing God for His gift of peace.
“Seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalms)
“You will keep Danae in perfect peace; for her mind is steadfast, because she trusts in You.” (Isaiah)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians)
Over time, I found that I was able to identify the lies that were attempting to penetrate my consciousness. When I was ready with Worship and the Word, I was able to take those lies down one by one so that they had limited power over me:
You woke up again. You’re not getting enough sleep; you’ll be exhausted tomorrow and you know how sick you always feel when you’re exhausted.
You are alone; no one sees the pain you’re feeling and can’t help you if you’re afraid.
The Lord is my strong tower, the one I can run to when I feel afraid and alone. He says He will never leave me or forsake me (¤).
You don’t have what it takes to conquer this; you’re fighting a losing battle. You won’t win.
The Lord promised me that we will conquer this together. He has equipped me with everything I need to fight this battle with Him by my side (¤). His promises to me are sure (¤); He stands by His word and His word does not fail (¤). When I can’t do anything else to fight, I have the strength to stand (¤).
In Romans 12, we are commanded to renew our minds in order to not conform to the pattern of this world – which in one regard is caught up in fear, worry and anxiety. We are also told to take every thought captive unto the Lordship of Jesus Christ (¤).
I never understood what it meant to renew the mind and take my thoughts captive until I began to fight the battle with anxiety.
Years after this season had passed, I heard a sermon that included an illustration which perfectly described what I had experienced in my own journey.
Renewing the mind is like taking your thoughts to trial. It’s bringing the thoughts that seem to show up unannounced in your mind to the throne of our great Judge and saying, “This is what I am currently believing. Is it true, Jesus?”
If He says no, then we look that lie in the face and declare to it what He says the truth is. Repeating this action over and over – saturating the lie with the truth until it loses it’s power – is the act that accomplishes the work of renewal.
Yes, God has the ability to transform a person instantly. God has the power to heal a person in a moment. I knew that God had the capacity and the desire to release me from the grip of anxiety, but I am also confident that the way of partnership with Him was the best thing for my journey and for my life.
Mind renewal does not come easily. The Holy Spirit completes the supernatural work but we are required to do our part, too. I have a hard time explaining this, except to say that before I knew how to saturate lies with truth, I felt one way, and after I began to practice it, I felt completely different.
The Lord somehow knew that I was up for the challenge when he made me the offer of partnering with Him. He knew that I had what it took to go to work.
Though there was much improvement and the panic attacks were ending much faster than they used to, I was not completely out of the pit yet.
to read Part 1 of my story, click here.
The longer I live, the more people I meet who also struggle with anxiety. A few of my closest friends take medication for their pain and struggle and rely on it to cope with everyday life. I am not against medication to treat anxiety; I probably would have chosen it myself had the Lord not been so clear and specific in His word to me that day at the clinic. My story is my own and the grace that I have found is available to anyone – regardless of whether they are medicated or not. My heart and prayers go out to you if you read this and are holding onto hope for complete healing and restoration someday. I truly believe you will find what you are searching for.
More of this story will follow in the coming weeks. Thanks for reading!
Photograph by the talented Madison Kay Photography © 2016