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Panic Attacks and Me - Swapping Anxiety for Faith

Note: this is a much shorter sermon than normal as we did an activity with the kids first!

The problem is obvious, isn't it? When we carry our worries, we are utterly, utterly burdened and you see this every day, people literally bent over with their worries. Unable to move under the burdens they carry.

But Jesus tells us plainly and straightforwardly we are not to worry or at least not to worry about tomorrow. Easy for Him to say right? But He is absolutely right and this is something that I had to learn the hard way. You see, this may surprise some given how I am now, but I am a born worrier. In my early 20s as a fairly new teacher, having just bought our first house together, starting in a new school I carried so many worries all the time. Claire will tell you I was completely neurotic. Until one day in October 2009 I snapped, the worry suddenly got too much, and I descended in to the first of many panic attacks, that would plague my life for the next 5-6 years. Many of you know I don’t have caffeine; this is the reason - it can set me off on a spiral towards anxiety. I haven't deliberately had caffeine for 13 1/2 years now. My constant state of worry for years, without me even realising the danger, led eventually to panic disorder which is where, at my worst I was having reoccurring panic attacks for no reason almost constantly. I was having panic attacks 3-4 times an hour, even sometimes in my sleep. When I went back to work I would frequently have to pause at the whiteboard and hide the fact I was having a panic attack. I learnt to become a high functioning anxiety sufferer. it was so very hard for so very long.

I have, thanks be to God, slowly recovered, spend ages in therapy, and have for a long time now been fully recovered. In a strange way i thank God for this - I am certain not being refined in that fire would have meant never being called to be a Vicar. But at the same time I wouldn't wish Anxiety Disorder on anyone. All caused through constant worry. But in the end, I had to learn to trust God and learn the hard way not to worry, but to trust. Looking back, it was a lesson in faith. “Therefore” Jesus tells us “do not worry about your life” because when we over worry it is so damaging to our very health. Jesus speaks plainly here and we are encouraged to trust the Lord. He will set it right even if it is only when He comes again.

The other thing to notice is that worrying isn’t in itself bad. Jesus doesn’t say don’t worry ever, He says "do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” After all, Jesus Himself was to sweat blood through worry as he contemplated His imminent crucifixion, but not before it was about to happen, even though He knew why He travelled to Jerusalem. The problems arise, particularly when we allow worries about the future to dominate, to over burden us, as if we had any control what the future held anyway. We are invited to lay down our burdens that we worry about and be free. That sounds like Good News to me.

In the midst of my panic disorder when my worry was too much, when each day was a bit of a struggle, I wrote a poem, and for me reading it all these years later, it reawakens what was quite a tough time in life, but it also explained the start of my recovery that ultimately led to greater faith and now huge blessings. It also, I think, says something about the personal journey Jesus in this reading welcomes us all to. Not a journey that does away with disaster, but one that puts disaster and worry in their proper place, at the foot of the cross, subject to God and one day put right. Anyway, I would like to share it with you as an encouragement for whatever worry you face today or in the future written in a dark place when I was just about to begin my journey of recovery. Also if any read this who also have been in a pit of anxiety, or are still in it, I hope it may point you to Him :

Clouds of worry, stars of light

Hunched up storm is blowing,

Through my wearied soul.

It howls unease growing,

Kneeling I lose control.

Looking up I see the sky,

Clouds leaden, dreary.

“Stress, toil’ they decry,

Leaving spirit weary.

“What troubles you?”

I hear through the gale.

I angle up my view,

Looking for voice so hale.

Seeing no source,

I replied “life, sir, life!

Lost, sir I know no course.”

Pain, a cutting knife.

Gentle mirth cascades,

Not mocking but giving.

“You are needing aid,

Currently you are not living!”

“Give me this aid!”

I scream at riotous air.

Hoping though afraid,

He is still there.

“I can give, will you receive?”

The Small Voice tests.

“Just love Me, believe.”

It quietly suggests.

“Believe in You?”

I say to the Voice.

“Of you I have no view,

That would ease the choice.”

“Blessed are those who

Don’t see yet believe.”

I heard as the wind blew,

As the cold cleaves.

“Will the clouds go?”

“Will my trouble cease?”

I ask from below,

Hoping for release.

‘Why are you afraid?’

‘Have you no faith?’

The voice’s judgement weighed,

Pierce me as if I were a wraith.

I dare not deceive,

Or hide truth like a thief.

‘I do believe!’

‘Help my unbelief’

A moments silence,

The briefest of calms,

Ceases the violence,

I receive it like alms.

The voice says ‘reach out,

Take my hand in yours.’

I try to keep out doubt,

Wanting hands not claws.

Reaching I touch Him,

I look and see,

His wounded limb,

Pierced from the tree.

He tightens His grip,

To my feet I am drawn,

With trembling lip,

With legs of faun.

The storm rewakes,

Wind begins to howl,

My body shakes,

I begin to scowl.

‘Lord, I took Your Hand!

Lord I trusted You!

Are your promises just sand,

My hands to run through?’

‘Look up’ said my Lord,

‘What do you see?’

My questions were ignored,

Had He not listened to my plea?

I trust Him,

So despite my pain,

I follow His whim,

Upwards I crane.

A break in the cloud,

A moment of sight,

A lift in the shroud,

A glimpse of some light.

Through the break,

Stars shone bright.

Beauty that aches,

From immeasurable height.

Tears streak down my face,

My Lords voice is calm,

“They burn throughout space,

Giving light like a balm.”

“Like My love for you,

They are huge beyond compare,

Bright, hot and true,

Touching all with magical glare.”

“Like My love for you,

There are more than you know,

Some hidden from view,

From down below.”

“When clouds cover them,

When in darkest despair,

When Me you condemn,

When Storm is in the air.”

“Remember the starlight,

Still shining above,

Innumerable, eternal, bright

Unending love.”

“between Me and star,

One difference is true,

Starlight is far,

I Am always with you.”

I walk forward and high,

Joy’s tears still flowing,

Forgetting the sky,

Regardless of cold wind blowing.

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