The early morning sun peered from behind a cloud as I headed towards San Antonio to finish a job. I had made the 45-minute drive many times before, but this Saturday morning was quite different.
As the skyline came into view, I noticed that my heart began to pound in my chest. I struggled to breatheI couldnt seem to get enough air. What’s happening to me? My hands and legs felt numb. This is a heart attack! My mind began to race. I must be losing my mind! I thought I was going to die. Oh Lord, I cried out, please don’t let me die!
As it turned out, I didn’t have a heart attack. I didn’t go crazy, and I’m still alive to tell you about what I went through. I experienced what doctors call a panic attack.
As a child, these intense episodes were common. At night, I would lie in bed trying to rationalize "deep" issues like death and eternity. These thoughts triggered waves of terror. Shards of unreality stabbed at my mind. I ran screaming to my mom knowing she could calm the fears.
As I grew through the years, so did the fear. I tried to explain it to doctors, but most of them simply said my symptoms were the result of excess stress. "Russell, you worry too much," they would advise. "You just need to relax." If I were to write down the number of times someone said that to me, I could fill hundreds of pages.
In college, I discovered an effective form of self-medicationalcohol. At nights, when the anxiety was at its worst, my drinking temporarily numbed the fear. Without realizing what was happening, I began to drink more and more. Nighttime binges became routine. Soon the alcohol controlled me.
During my senior year in college, my mom insisted that I see a psychiatrist. At our first meeting, the young doctor pulled out a large medical book. He handed me the giant publication and instructed me to read a section entitled Chronic Panic Anxiety Disorder.
I was shocked! This indescribable fear had a nameusually called panic disorder or anxiety disease. I sat there astonished as I read through the symptoms: racing heart, rapid breathing, feelings of unreality, thoughts of dying or going crazy. What a relief! I learned that I was not the only one who battled this problem.
The doctor prescribed an anti-anxiety medication which provided some relief, but the fear continued . . . along with the drinking. As time passed, the fear built up to a point where I was afraid to be alone or to drive anywhere by myselfagoraphobia, I later learned, is a common companion of panic disorder.
After graduation, I accepted a job in Fort Worth. The loneliness of a new city and the pressures of a new profession pushed me deeper into despair. The torment of fear left me wanting to die. Yet, the fear of death, ironically, kept me alive. Torn between peace and panic, right and wrong, life and death, I cried out to God for answers. In utter hopelessness, I prayed a simple prayer, "God, if you are real, then you can help me. You can take away this fear."
I visited many churches. On my third visit to one particular church, the pastor began speaking about the fear he had faced. I had heard many people talk about fear before, but this man had my full attention. I knew the kind of fear he described.
When we met for the first time, he asked me to describe my fear. As I stumbled for words, he came to my rescue, saying, "Better yet, let me explain it to you." As he began to paint a picture of the fear, I could hardly believe ithe described to me my own fears.
Not only had this pastor experienced what I was experiencing, but he had found freedom from the fear. There was hope. For the first time in my life, I could see Light at the end of the tunnel.
That day, I embarked on a quest . . . a quest to learn as much as possible about panic disorder. I read books by doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists who understand this anxiety disease. I collected every article I could find on the subject. I met and talked with other panic sufferers. I searched the Bible for all references to fear.
Yet, in all of my research, I could not find the overnight cure I so desperately sought. I longed for a "magic pill," but there was none to be found. So, I prayed. I searched. I begged for that one-time, spiritual zap that would forever set me free. It never came.
One day my wife said, "Do you know what I think? I think you will have those unwanted thoughts for the rest of your life. You just need to learn how to overcome them." It was a painful, but honest, revelation. Seeing the truth in her words, I came to a life-changing conclusion: God does not come into our lives to take away our problems; rather, he gives us the strength to overcome them.
Somewhat reluctantly, I accepted that healing is often a processthe time of recovery is typically related to the length of the disorder. For those who have been experiencing panic attacks for only a few years, freedom often comes within a few months, maybe even weeks. For others, like me, who have wrestled with this fear their entire life, the path may be longer.
Each persons road to recovery is a unique one. For some, it can be a single step of faith bringing instant freedom and deliverance. For others, its a journey. A journey of learning, trusting, growing and walking. Its an expedition of experience conforming us into his image.
The good news is that the Lord walks with us every step of the way, no matter where our path may take us. These devotions are a collection of the truths he has revealed to me along this journey of mine. You will learn more of my story as you read these pages; but far greater, I pray that you will learn more about your worth in Christ and about the love your Father longs to lavish on you.
Since I have had panic attacks all my life, I never really knew mental freedom. It wasn’t until I placed all of my trust in Jesus Christ that I began to see the sunrise of a new season in my lifethe season of peace.
If panic has become a part of your life, if you would like to begin your "season of peace," pray this simple prayer:
Father, I come to you defeated by this fear. I have tried to fight this battle alone, but I have failed. Forgive me. I realize that I am a sinner in the midst of a fallen, sinful world. Even though I did not deserve it, you sent your only Son to die on a cross in order to pay the debt for my sin. Yet, he rose to life on the third day, victorious over death. I will trust in you, Father. Help me to trust you even more, for you are greater than all my fears. Amen.
I hope that my testimony has helped you in some way. I have experienced more peace the past few years than I have my entire life. Peace is possible. If you have any questions or want prayer, please contact us. I would love to hear from you.