It all hit at a time when life was going really well. My husband and child were wonderful, jobs were set, my first EP was just released, and we were on our way to a triple date with some of our friends. July 20th, 2012 started out as a perfectly normal day.
We chose to go see a movie that night and in the theatre I began to feel something unfamiliar. I was certain it was the beginning of a heart attack. It continued to get worse – the burning, the racing pulse, the shaking, the difficulty breathing. I was feeling frantic, and that’s putting it lightly.
All I wanted to do was go home or go to the hospital. Something was wrong and it wasn’t going away. As hard as I tried to figure out what was going on with me, I couldn’t.
After a visit to the ER, four days of agony dealing with anxiety, an uncontrollable shaking episode, a visit to the doctor, and Xanax, I found myself sitting on our bed on a Tuesday night. What was all of this? Where did it come from? I decided to take a look in my journal where I record thoughts and prayers. Tears began streaming down my face.
Here are a few of the excerpts I read that night:
June 5, 2012
I feel that if I discipline myself in prayer and listening to God, I could really be who I'm supposed to be and do what I'm supposed to do.
June 13, 2012
Not sure what is next on the agenda for me, but I have a hopeful feeling that God is going to give me something new and different and better.
June 14, 2012
Being helpless is what creates a deep prayer life. God, how do I become helpless? I need to be that. I need to be less. I need to feel weak. I need to feel like I can't control or do things on my own. Help me do that.
June 19, 2012
I need to have faith - not rely on optimism and answered prayers. No matter what happens, God is still God and God is still good.
I was absolutely floored and didn’t remember writing any of it. My desire was to feel a closeness and nearness with God that I hadn't felt before. I longed to feel him on the other side of my prayers. I wanted to be dependent on him and know that I truly was. I wanted to give up control of my life. I had asked him for this.
God allowed me to do, feel, and know all of those things. He allowed for this great pain to overwhelm my body, something that I have always been very good at controlling. He allowed me to feel completely alone in my own mind. He allowed me to feel helpless, weak, and out of control.
This is a part of God that some find troubling (including myself at times). Yet, God wasn't sitting in heaven on a comfy chair while zapping his hands at me and making me suffer through this pain. He was allowing me to experience this pain, knowing all along that he would bring me out of it and I would come out a better person--a dependent child of God.
Although this was truly anxiety, there was also a deeper problem - a spiritual problem. I believe that the outpouring of this pain came from a longing and emptiness in my soul. I was supposed to uncover all of this truth about God and myself.
I asked my husband, "But would God really allow all of this to happen to me and for me to feel so much pain just so I could realize these things?" "Yes. That's how much He loves you," he said. My eyes filled with tears as I thought about this love that I had blocked out of so many parts of my heart. I had finally let it all in.
I sat there that night crying, reading through my journal, and thanking the Lord through prayer. It was as if a cool breeze had fallen on my entire body and a huge burden had been lifted. I was free and the pain was gone. Gone.
I was reminded of this verse:
Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.- James 4:8
I fell asleep praying that night. I fell asleep feeling like the Spirit of God was wrapped around me like a blanket. As if I could never escape it. I didn't want to escape it; this was home.
I’ve learned so much from all of this. The list seems unending. But how it has affected my understanding of people around me, the good news of Jesus, and the reality of God as Provider have proven to be the most significant.
I have to take time to understand where people are coming from. I had my definitions of “anxiety” and of “those people” with mental health issues nailed down in my mind until it happened to me. I have a deeper understanding now. I know what it’s like to feel like your life, as you once knew it, was over. Everything around me was dark and hopeless. I can now empathize with others walking in that same valley. I am working on showing compassion and offering grace to others.
The good news of Jesus is true, living, and active. He did something amazing thousands of years ago. One remarkable result is it allows the Holy Spirit to live inside of us. We have access to this God! I am just now understanding what that really means and how powerful it truly is. When I felt alone in a place of darkness, he was there. He was all I had. I leaned on him even though I didn’t feel like I even knew how. When he came that night to reveal those truths to me, I not only had a new understanding of the good news of Jesus in my mind and heart, but I could feel it. It swept through my body and provided healing.
Ask. Seek. Find
If you want something from God, then ask. Ask over and over. He does provide. I knew there was something I was lacking in my relationship with God and understanding of him. I asked for that many, many times, whatever “that” was. I asked him if he’d help me break through whatever was stopping me. He did. He did in a way that I would’ve never asked for myself, but it was so worth it.
God is legitimately listening and acting. If you find yourself disagreeing with that statement, I encourage you to do one thing: talk to God genuinely. Tell him how you feel. Ask him for help. Be genuine and open in your interaction with him and I believe he will do more than you can imagine. I'm not saying that if you ask for a new refrigerator that a new refrigerator is going to show up on your doorstep. I am saying that God takes care of us in ways we couldn't have come up with on our own sometimes. Trust me; his ways always end up being better than anything we could have planned.
I am not perfect and I am not struggle-free. I am still dealing with anxiety and fear in a way I’ve never had to before. (My old, in-control self would marvel at the fact that I now see a counselor regularly!) I get weary and even the journey seems too hard at times. But I know, like that night God’s healing rushed through me, that he is with me. He is making me new. Draw near to him and he will draw near to you.
Claire Westbrook (@clairewestbrook) is wife to Colt and mother to 14-month-old Duke. She lives in Oklahoma City, OK and spends her time being a stay-at-home mom, teaching piano lessons, and writing music. Claire blogs at My Devising.
Read more on this topic in Winfield Bevins' e-book, Prayer Life.