I Corinthians 10:13
My warmest Minnesota greetings to each of you reading this today. I know how some of you are faring so far in 2009, but with most of you I don’t know. I truly wish you well in the ways that matter most. I do know that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It’s a good thing, because we certainly do change, and so do our circumstances.
Five Days from the Pit
The first five days of 2009 have been, as far as I can recall, the most awful time of my life, health-wise. I have never known such anxiety. To back up a bit, my health began to take a further downward turn in the fall, leading to a bad month of December, and culminating in the frightening days of January 1-5. A combination of decreasing strength and increasing fear led to some truly awful episodes of anxiety. (I am using the words “anxiety” and “fear” as synonyms, although generally fear is understood as being tied to a realistic threat from one’s environment, whereas anxiety is not. I find both words necessary to convey my thoughts and emotions.)
Even though I have struggled with anxiety both before and after my heart transplant of 2003, I have lived most of my life with no major problems with it. I do confess that during our honeymoon, when I was 23, I had to have some serious talks with God about my fears concerning the financial challenges of the months and years ahead (after all, I had now “taken to myself a wife”). But I never knew how real and frightening serious anxiety could be until recent weeks.
What Was Going On?
It is hard, with words, to convey the terror of those days. (I say “those days” because, praise God, my last really bad day was January 5.) I’m not sure how to understand it all. But I began to experience terrible fear within me—gripping my chest and abdomen, but definitely centered in my thoughts: thoughts of great apprehension, fear, and fear of fear. The “episodes” basically involved my sitting or standing in a completely overwhelmed state, feeling as though I was not only losing control of a sound mind, but had actually lost it. I would cry, and say to Judy, “I can’t take this any more.” I wasn’t banging on anything, or shouting out loud (but I was shouting in my mind) and didn’t have any external symptoms except my frightened words and cries. Inside I was a wreck—crying to God for help but feeling under the grip of a terrifying force that seized me at the most vulnerable edge of my fears.
What fears did I have? In part, the accumulation of 25 years of heart problems, especially the past five since my heart transplant, with no medical hope of improvement—only a heart attack or attacks predicted to end it all quite soon—began to settle in me. But why now? I don’t know for sure, although I have some ideas.
I do know that the fear had a lot to do with the future—not the far-off future, not standing before the Lord at the end of my life, not even the rather unpleasant scenario I’ve been told to expect that will end my life, but the fear of the immediate day itself, or the portion of the day still before me. I became terribly anxious about how I would spend my time. What would I do all day long? With my lack of energy becoming more of a problem each day, I can do less and less.
I had been having trouble sleeping, and would wake as early as 2:00 a.m. To look forward to the long hours ahead would create such a sense of panic within me that I felt out of control. Each episode—lasting from 15 minutes to an hour or so—reinforced the apprehension about the next episode. I learned later that this was a classic pattern of fear-adrenaline-further apprehension-fear. Adrenaline was pumping furiously during this cycle, and the more I fought the fear, the more I became filled with fear.
What to Do?
During some long, cold, lonely nights and days I spent a lot of time reading the scriptures on anxiety, praying for some understanding of this “enemy” (or “thorn in the flesh”) that seemed to be lurking around each corner of the house (actually, lurking within my mind), waiting for the right moment to pounce. I said to Judy several times, “Something has to change. I don’t believe God wants me to go on like this.” I sensed strongly that something would soon change.
Finally, I did two things. One, which I had done several times before, was to follow James chapter five and call for the elders of the church to come to our home and pray for me. Another, which I had never done before, was to visit a mental health professional to discuss what was happening to me. Between the elders’ prayers, the doctor’s guidance and medications, a truly marvelous 40-year-old book the doctor recommended (Hope and Healing for Your Nerves, by Dr. Claire Weekes, Signet paperback), and the prayers of many others, I began to understand and conquer the awful, awful fear.
Is There a Purpose Here?
Why am I writing this piece? Purely out of desire to help someone. If there is one reader, or the friend or acquaintance of some reader, who is suffering from anxiety, or will at some time in the future, and will find help in this writing, I will be totally grateful. This is why I write. I hear accounts of how someone has forwarded an item from this blog to someone in need, and God has used it to strengthen that person, and I am filled with thanksgiving. This gives me a reason to live, which, as some of you know, I have struggled with significantly.
It is interesting to read my January, 2008, blog posting on—of all things—anxiety, and the relevance of Philippians 4:6-7. What I have experienced recently makes the personal testing part of last year’s writing seem mild by comparison. I know those experiences were not mild, but recent events have challenged me at a much deeper level—at the very core of my being.
I have not discussed a scripture text in this piece. This is very unusual for me. There are basically two reasons for this. First, I am still so overwhelmed by the Bible passage from December, 2008 (2 Corinthians 12:7-12), that it continues to be a powerful help in sustaining me now as it did during the recent very bleak days. Second, the scripture I want to comment on next will “fit” better after this piece and the next, so I will simply offer it to you now as a remarkable promise from God for 2009.
“No testing [or temptation] has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13, NRSV).