I think it was the lack of oxygen that jolted me awake, but it might have been the sweating or the too-fast heartbeat. 0 to 60 in one second flat, my heart and lungs and brain were running a marathon at a dead sprint while the rest of my body laid in bed, trying to make sense of something that has no sense.
It was the first time panic had ever woken me up, but it wouldn’t be the last.
It was also 8 months after I’d been diagnosed with a panic disorder, and things weren’t looking up.
Sometimes healing looks more like hiking the Grand Canyon than the steady uphill of Mt. Everest. There’s further down to go than you thought before you can start climbing up, and you might spend a couple of nights camping on the bottom.
“How have things been going for you spiritually lately?”
It’s late and I’ve invited myself over to two of my dearest friends’ house because I haven’t been able to catch my breath for two days and I don’t know what else to do. They’ve asked questions and offered advice and suggested doctors and prayed and held hope for me, and now it’s probably time to go. But he asks it anyway, even though it’s late and we all need sleep.
“I, umm . . . I don’t know. I guess I’m learning that God is love and grace and good, despite my total inability to contribute anything to this relationship. I’m discovering what ‘unconditional’ means.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t read my Bible. Well, I can’t read anything. I can’t focus for very long. I can’t pray more than about 3 words at a time. I have nothing to give, but God has not changed in his care for me.“
I am finding that there is a slow grace for those who are hurting and need it most. On the days when my eyes move over the page of my Bible but none of the words register, when I lift my pen to write and get only as far as, “I hate this,” when I start out to pray but find myself counting my breaths instead, I have found nothing but inexplicable grace for that.
I used to do those things so that God would like me more.
It turns out he couldn’t possibly like me any more than he already does.
Jesus isn’t standing at the gates of heaven looking down on my life and keeping track of the minutes I spend in Bible study, prayer, and serving him. There is no cosmic checklist I have to accomplish, despite my affinity for checklists. I am not behind on my debts, or maybe it’s that I am so far behind that we’re not keeping tabs any more.
No, Jesus isn’t looking down on my lack of commitment. He’s gently holding my hand and counting my breaths with me. He is not frustrated that I can’t pull it together and trust him (or anyone) nor surprised when panic takes over at the most inconvenient of times. He softly whispers that he wants all that I have to give, whatever I have to give.
I’m not the soft whispering type, so I yell something about not having anything to give. And he takes my hand again and counts with me: breathe in, 2, 3, 4, hold it, hold it, and out, 2, 3, 4. And somehow this is prayer, here, counting and breathing and believing that I am not alone. It is all I have to give, and it is all that He wants from me.
I hate anxiety. I do. It is frustrating and irrational and isolating and exhausting, and I would wish it on exactly zero people in the entire human race. It reminds me that I am human and that sometimes that is a terrible thing.
It has also given me more opportunity to love and be loved by my friends, my family, and my God than any other single part of my life. They have proven more trustworthy than I would ever have believed, and I am daily grateful for their abundant love for me. They remind me that I am human and that is a beautiful thing.
It’s not what I thought it would look like, but maybe this is healing too.