The following is an excerpt from my book on prayer. I’m picking up after the personal story of how I came to have my first panic attack:
For you who are blessedly uniformed, the panic attack was different than any fear I had ever experienced, not just normal anxiety intensified. Of course, I had dealt with “normal” fear many times: pre-test anxiety, first day of school anxiety, will-she-like-me anxiety, dodge ball last-pick anxiety, and of course, first date anxiety. Earlier in life, I had wrestled with strange fears on top of the standard ones. Driving along an expressway as a small boy with a friend and his dad, we saw to our horror a conflagration at a roadside gas station – an errant car having careened into a pump. Not surprisingly, I developed a fear of gas stations and dreaded when Mom and Dad needed to fill up. Then there were financial institutions – I suppose resulting from seeing more than my share of robberies on TV, I dreaded going into banks with my parents for fear of face-masked bad guys with automatic weapons. You might have called me a person with a tendency toward anxiety.
But the panic attack was in a class by itself – waves of intense fear washing over me in spasms of awfulness. It would come, stay for a few intense minutes, and then pass. It was like a horrific monster lurking in my closet, but worse, because just thinking about the monster was enough to open the closet door. In the aftermath of an episode, I would wonder when and if the panic attack was coming back. These fearful musings would inevitably result in another attack; I imagined myself trapped for life.
“Do not be afraid of sudden terror,” came the counsel of Solomon (Proverbs 3:25 ESV), but how would I stop fearing my fear?
Trying Out An Idea
I did have one idea. I had learned two verses from the Navigator’s Topical Memory system that seemed to have a bearing on what I was going through. Maybe…just maybe the promise of Philippians 4:6, 7 would meet my need:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6, 7 (ESV)
That last bit sounded pretty good – I needed the peace of God which would surpass all understanding, and I needed a guarded heart from future attacks. Was prayer somehow the answer? There was only one way to find out. When the attacks had come previously, I had tried to “think” my way out of it. “I don’t need to be afraid.” “God is with me.” “Nothing bad is going to happen.” etc. If fear came from irrationality, then surely I could rationalize myself out of it. Unfortunately, this mental reasoning never had much effect; it may have even made things worse. But maybe…prayer? I didn’t have much to lose, and when the next attack came, I began to talk to God.
Specifically, I began to offer requests, or supplications…but not for myself. For whatever reason, I had interpreted “supplication” in the verse to be prayer for others, so as the waves of fear washed over me, I lifted up in prayer anyone I could think of. Mom, Dad, high school friends, college chums, my new friend Laura, people I had just met that day at work. Anyone and everyone – a phone book would have served me well. And it wasn’t a half-hearted kind of praying – no, it matched my mood – I prayed frantically and fervently. My rapid fire requests must have sounded quite desperate in heaven, like a condemned prisoner begging for…everyone else’s life.
And as I prayed, something wonderful began to happen: the panic began to subside…until it was gone. And then the quiet. The Peace. And then, once again…the what if? What if it comes again? What if prayer worked the first time but won’t take care of it again? Always that kind of thinking had brought it on again. And sure enough, the fear came again, but I could tell something was different – it was lessened in intensity.
Once again, I prayed fervently for others, and once again, the attack went away, but more quickly this time. And then, the thought again – what if it comes back? Well, what if it does? I had a plan now. And indeed, when it came one last time, now a mere 98 lb. weakling of a panic attack, the power of prayer kicked sand in its face and sent it scurrying from the beach for the last time.
I was free.
When I told my story to a Christian acquaintance some years later, he made a comment about my prayer being just another kind of behavior/thought modification – in other words, that my rescue had nothing to do with God and everything to do with modern psychology. I suppose he can believe what he wants. I just know that God’s word has never let me down.
And Paul told the Philippians that the peace of God comes…as a result of prayer.
For Monday, August 10th: Colossians 1