There are those moments that literally take your breath away. Those moments that leave beautiful watercolor paintings adorning the walls of your very soul. They cause you to gasp. Leave you momentarily frozen. Overcome with emotion.
The birth of your child.
The sight of your spouse on your wedding day.
This was not one of those moments.
Yes, I did gasp. I was left frozen in mid-stride. Completely disabled by emotion.
And I didn’t know where it came from.
Striding down the hallway of my home on a morning like every other, it gripped me in a stranglehold. Thoughts raced in search of the source of my fight-or-flight adrenaline overload.
Was it an indiscernible sound that registered only in my subconscious? Had I caught a glimpse of a threat out of the corner of my eye that caused my body to react before my brain could understand it?
All alone, or so I thought, I considered searching the house for the source of my reaction, but I remained immobilized. Afraid of what I might find. Even more afraid of finding nothing.
So, this is what it’s like. A panic attack.
I tried to reason it away. I tried to distract myself with routine busy work. I even tried walking it off. I would have literally tried to run from it, but when you can’t determine the direction your attacker is coming from, you don’t know which direction to run. Besides, it felt like the attacker was just beneath my very skin.
A half hour or so later it eventually faded away, though I felt the remnants of it for the rest of the day. For the rest of the week, actually. The fear of its returning nearly caused more panic. But, here’s the one feeling that enveloped me more than any other as a result of the attack.
I wasn’t ashamed of the fact that I experienced this panic attack, although I have to admit, it did make me feel like I might be losing my mind. I was ashamed of my response to someone very dear to me who had experienced panic attacks. I was especially ashamed of my response when that person experienced one right in front of me.
I blew it off.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t blatantly obvious in my refusal to believe that this was a very real, very serious issue. At least I thought wasn’t. In hindsight, my words to my friend probably made it very clear that I was, indeed, blowing it off.
Just calm down.
There’s no reason to feel this way.
Relax and breathe. Your reaction to this whole thing is only making it worse.
Trying to add a little sympathetic tone didn’t change the message of my words. My message that I was so smart. My message that I had this all figured out.
Suddenly, in the aftermath of my panic-ridden experience, I was so very ashamed of the most insensitive advice I could have given to someone at a time when they were in such desperate need of support. What’s worse is that I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such insensitive words.
You know the words. You’ve probably heard them yourself.
It could be worse…
Yes, it can always be worse. But when we’re at a point of desperation or pain that sears the depths of our heart, we don’t want to hear how it could be worse. We don’t want to hear all the reasons they believe this is happening to us. We don’t want to hear that God will never put more on us than we can bear.
Because, God didn’t tell us He would never give us more than we can bear.
Never did He tell us that.
Here’s what He did tell us.
Cast your burden on the Lord [releasing the weight of it] and He will sustain you; He will never allow the [consistently] righteous to be moved (made to slip, fall or fail) (Psalm 55:22, AMP)
He told us our burdens will become so great that we will need help. We will need to release the weight of them to Him. He told us that He will never allow life’s burdens to make us slip, fall or fail, because He is always standing by to take the weight of them if we will release the weight to Him. He promised us He will sustain us when those burdens threaten to crush us.
Here’s what else He told us.
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities… (Hebrews 4:15a, KJ21)
For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet He did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15, NIV)
Christ knows how we feel. Every single feeling. Only He can empathize with us in every situation we face. Only He can identify with us at all times, in all things. Because He’s been there.
I couldn’t empathize with my dear friend over the panic attacks, because I had never experienced one personally.
It’s all the more reason we ought to reach out to those hurting from something we have no way of understanding. To reach out to them in Christ’s love, because our own love lacks the empathy so desperately needed.
Because God has so blessed us that we’ve never had to experience it.
I wish I could take back my shameful advice from all those years ago when I thought I had all the answers. I realize now that when I try to have all the answers, I’m really just trying to convince myself that this awful thing will never happen to me. Because I’ve got the situation all figured out. Because I’m above it.
I felt like one of those three so-called friends of Job. Those three who came to comfort him, but only ended up telling him all the reasons he deserved the terrible things that had happened. Those three who considered themselves above such dreadful circumstances because they had the spiritual life all figured out. Those three who believed their thoughts were as high as God’s and their ways were as pure as His. I saw myself wearing their ugly robes of self-righteousness.
Did God send me that panic attack? I don’t know. Did He use it to teach me? No doubt. As much as I would like to, I can’t go back and unsay those unsympathetic words to my friend. But, in the future when I’m faced with those circumstances I don’t understand because I haven’t experienced them, may God grant me His grace and wisdom to be a quiet comfort. And in this instance, I thank Him for what He taught me through that one time when the panic became personal.