God’s Presence Causes Anxiety to Flee

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It was around 3 AM, and I knew that unless I opened the door, she would never go away. Her cries were desperate and difficult to drown out. I was tempted to let her in, but my husband gently pulled me back to bed. Her cries echoed like wailing stars outside the block of wood that separated her from us.

I lay there for ten minutes as the intense firestorm at the door increased in pressure. As I leapt towards the door, her body rushed past me. She jumped into the bed with my husband and began to purr. Each day, it was becoming increasingly clear that the cat we rescued suffered from extreme anxiety.

At first, we thought Isabella’s constant desire to be in our presence was endearing. We thought it funny when we’d awake with her perched on top our heads. But then, her fearfulness and anxiety became more pronounced. Each time my husband took a business trip, she gnawed the fur from her body. It was a violent and cathartic way in which our cat dealt with his absence. We knew that the bald patches weren’t the result of allergic reactions or parasites but anxiety.

When the Huffington Post asked people to describe what an anxiety attack feels like, they were flooded with a plethora of responses. Some people said that it feels as if you’re drowning, others described it as feeling as if you are facing a terrorist attack or being chased by dinosaurs. But the consensus is that when a panic attack comes, the walls close in, and a person’s own body becomes their worst enemy. But you can’t escape your body – which is why panic attacks are so tormenting. The attack makes a person want to literally crawl out of their skin. An anxiety attack feels like you are going to die. 

Physiologically, when a person experiences a panic attack, the amygdala, which is the fear center of the brain becomes hyperactive. The amygdala is the same region of the brain that kicks into gear when a person senses an imminent threat. Panic attacks cause the region to overreact, and it’s an extreme reaction. The fight-or-flight response is magnified. And then the harrowing experience of panic ensues.

Southern Methodist University conducted a rare study where patients were monitored around-the-clock for physiological instabilities before an attack. The team of researchers discovered that panic attacks are not unexpected. They start about an hour before the patient is fully aware of what’s happening to their body. Although the body is in a panic mode for an hour, it’s only within those last few seconds or minutes that one finally realizes that they feel as if they are going to die. Unfortunately, there is no way to emotionally or mentally survive an hour-long panic attack. Therefore, it is a grace, relief and mercy that the person isn’t aware of what’s happening to them until those last few moments.

The anthesis of anxiety is peace. The book of Philippians, which is called the Book of Peace, also happens to be one of the few places in scripture where the word anxious comes up. In Philippians, the reader is told not to be anxious about anything, but in every situation to pray with a heart of thanksgiving and present requests to God. Prayer is the answer to anxiety.

In the summer of 2014, a study published in Sociology of Religion released its findings on how prayer and anxiety connect, and whether or not the anxious really do find relief. The study acknowledged that prayer helps people manage and reduce negative emotions. The study also noted that how a person envisioned God while they were praying made a difference in their anxiety. Those who benefited the most from prayer were those who saw God as loving and intimate. When people saw God as distant and cold, there were no real, tangible benefits and no ease from the anxiety. The studies’ implications are clear. One’s perception of God interacts with both their spirituality and health.

Philippians 4 is devoid of instructions to think of God as loving and intimate. The book of Philippians is a letter written specifically to the people of the church of Philippi – a group of people who believed God to be both loving and merciful, holy and just.

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No one really knows where anxiety disorders originate. The general thought is that anxiety is a combination of nature and nurture. It is an amalgamation of anxiety-riddled DNA and a life built upon a fault line that ruptures often. A person who grows up in an environment full of abuse or contention may find that they are increasingly anxious as they age. Eventually, they find themselves on a cream colored couch with a prescription for Xanax in their hands. These are the same people that might experience their first panic attack in their mid-twenties. It’s as if a culmination of the all the stress over the years has finally taken its toll on the body. The body wants out.

In The Concept of Anxiety, Kierkegaard describes anxiety as the dizziness of freedom, but he couldn’t have been further from the truth. Anxiety traps a person within the most uncomfortable, primitive confines of their imagination. When one suffers a panic attack, the mind and body are imprisoned. The innocent party desperately wants to escape. There is no freedom in anxiety.

The apostle Peter echoes the sentiments of Paul in the Book of Philippians. Peter tells the Christians to cast all their anxiety on God because God cares for them. God becomes the place to hold the anxiety, and the path through which to transport the emotional baggage is prayer. In Philippians 4:5, Paul tells the church that the ‘Lord is at hand.’ Upon first glance, one might assume that the apostle was referring to the Second Coming. However, Lead Pastor Sam Storms believes that Paul is speaking about the nearness of Christ in terms of time and space.

And so, we are to be anxious for nothing and remember that the Lord is at hand. Before anxiety comes to lodge, we are to remember that God is with us, beside us. And His Presence is the antithesis of anxiety.

This essay is an excerpt from Pieces of Prayer

The Three Steps You Need To Heal an Emotional Injury

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People understand that if they’re injured in some way – if they burn their hand, cut their foot, bruise their leg – there are steps that they should take to make the injury heal quicker. A wise person wouldn’t pour salt into a cut or poke at a bruise expecting it to go away.

But when it comes to emotional injuries people usually do nothing at all or they exasperate the wound, making it worse. Sometimes people behave as if the injury doesn’t exist which allows the wound to simply fester. There’s a saying that time heals all wounds, and I believe that this is true. I think time can work for those slights, little insults, and small events that we run into that aren’t good for our emotional health. But some emotional cuts run much deeper than others. There are times when an emotional injury is substantial.

If you would go to a hospital, physical therapist or grab your first aid kit to deal with a physical injury; why wouldn’t you do the same for an emotional one? Below are three steps that you need to take if you are emotionally injured and need healing.

Step One

The first step that you need to take is it acknowledge that you’re hurt. Ignoring the injury is not going to make it go away. The injury is still there, and if it’s a big wound it won’t get better over time, it will simply turn into something worse.

Take anger for example. If you allow anger to linger in your heart, eventually it will create a root of bitterness. Roots run deep, and they are difficult to remove. If you are hurting, you need to acknowledge that you are hurting. Acting as if you’re not hurt won’t help you recover faster. It’ll only make things worse.

Step Two

The second step is prayer. Prayer heals. Contrary to what the self-help movement proclaims – you cannot heal yourself (emotionally) by your own power – it doesn’t work. You need God to intervene. He is THE healer of broken hearts. A heart surgeon cannot give you a new heart or even heal your heart. He can only use stents, pacemakers and other devices to make the organ run a little while longer. But God is the Great Physician, who can heal emotional wounds completely.

Pray and ask for healing. But don’t just pray for yourself, also pray for the person who injured you. I find that when you pray for the other person it makes it much easier to do the third step.

Step Three

The third step is to let it go. You need to forgive. You can take steps one and two and achieve emotional healing, but without forgiveness there’s an ugly scar that’s left behind. Forgiveness removes that scar. So if you want more than just healing – if you want to remove any trace of the injury, then you have to forgive.

Saturated in Prayer

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I keep a snippet of a short article on my desk that I received from a Missionary Newsletter. The article talks about how blessed the missionaries are for one profound reason – they saturate their work in prayer. In the newsletter, it talks about how they pray for EVERYTHING.

The missionaries have so much and are fully equipped – emotionally, mentally and spiritually because they pray. Now, the Bible clearly says In James 4:2 that you don’t have because you don’t ask.

How many Christians are lacking what they need physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually because they don’t ask God? I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve encountered an obstacle – or something that I needed emotional or spiritual strength to fight through, and I forget to pray. Instead, I tried to fix things myself, which is insulting to God, who wants to supply all of my needs.

God cares about the details in our life and we need to go to Him for EVERYTHING. I once heard a woman teach a congregation about the spirit of poverty. She explained to the crowd that one of the reasons the spirit of poverty plagues people is because they are under a curse of self-sufficiency. A curse of trying to do everything in their own power and leaving God out of the equation.

Christians walk by faith and not by sight. We must lean in, trust, and depend on God. We are to let God direct our paths and fully surrender everything to Him. He supplies all our needs when we are fully dependent on Him. This doesn’t mean we sit there and do nothing – but it does mean that we don’t leave God out of our daily lives and decisions. Never leave God out of your problems – that is exactly where you need Him.

Saturate your life in prayer. Saturate every move and choice you make with prayer. We need to pray about everything and worry about nothing.

Teach a Child to Pray as Soon as He Can Speak

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My child barely uttered a word until he was nearly three. When he was two, I started to panic when I realized that he was speaking in the wrong language. His first word was in Dutch – a vestige of my wanderlust.

“We are back in America now. You have to speak and learn English.”

A piece of me felt like a xenophobic bigot uttering such words. But it was true. We were in America, and he did need to learn English.

“When he starts speaking, he’ll never stop,” was the constant refrain of those around me. They were right. He is four and never shuts up. I’m happy that he can speak because it means that he can pray.

Susannah Wesley (mother of John Wesley) is often commended for her mothering. One of her parenting philosophies (that I’ve embraced for myself) is to teach a child to pray as soon as he can speak.

It was over a plate of blueberry pancakes that we first asked our child to bless the food. He said something so simplistic and profound that my husband and I both stopped to look at each other.

His prayer was this: “Jesus you love us. Amen.”

I was immediately ashamed of my long-winded prayers that focused on needs, wants, desires, fears, and worries instead of focusing on the most important thing – Jesus and His Love. This simple prayer continues to be my son’s favorite, and it has become my favorite too.