Have you ever noticed how quickly your mood and attitude toward life can change? One minute you’re walking around and everyone you meet reminds you of Mr. Rogers (of Neighborhood fame), there are rainbows on the horizon, and you feel like you could do and be anything you want. And then one of your kids makes a bad choice and you suddenly feel like the worst parent ever: I’ve failed my child! Something happens at your kids school that makes you mad: I’m going to withdraw my kids from school and we’re all going to live in a commune in the wilderness and home school! Someone is rude to you at the store: I hate this town, why can’t we move! You have a sick day and get behind in your chores: I can’t do this, there is no way I can survive unless we hire a maid! And everything just feels like it’s unraveling right before your eyes.
So, I’ve had a week like that, or rather, that has been this past week. I found myself feeling anxious and unsettled this morning and I started doing some self-talk. It’s going to be ok. You’re going to be ok. You are ok. And suddenly that phrase that our pastors are always preaching at my church came back to me, “Preach the gospel to yourself.” And my self talk changed. I am ok because I have been saved. Everything is ok because Jesus already paid for all my sins. Everything is going to be alright because Jesus cares about me and he is in control and I don’t have to worry. He cares for me. He also cares about my kids, even more than I do. He’s got this. He’s going to help me figure out each one of these situations. I am not alone.
The anxiety rolled off my shoulders. Some of the tension eased. I put on some worship music later as I trudged through the chores. Took a nap because my worry has been keeping me from resting well. Felt better about life.
This is not the first time I’ve “preached the gospel to myself”. When I was 19 yrs old I started having panic attacks. Looking back I can see that I was very over-extended, sleep deprived, pursuing a career that really didn’t suit my personality. All of these were prime ingredients for inducing anxiety. I found panic attacks to be the most terrifying experience I had ever had. Mostly because I felt like I was going crazy and I didn’t know what to do with my racing thoughts. My very brain itself seemed out of order. During this time I dropped out of college and went overseas, spending 4 months in Haiti and then 5 months in Chile. While I was in Chile I attended a Spirit-filled Baptist Church where I had a lot of people pray for me, minister to me, teach me things about church life that I hadn’t learned yet. It was a time of spiritual awakening for me. I can’t remember if anyone specifically told me what to do or if God just helped me figure it out, but I remember I started having a panic attack one night and instead of completely melting down, I started preaching the Gospel to myself. I recited my entire creed of faith out loud. I believe in God. I believe he created the heavens and the earth. I believe in his son Jesus who came to earth. I believe that he died on the cross for my sins. I believe that he rose and died again. I believe that he forgave my sins. I believe that when I die I will be with him. I believe he has has sent his Holy Spirit, I believe his Holy Spirit lives in me.
By the time I was finished, the panic attack had eased off. I was still feeling shaky, but I had something to cling to and I clung hard. I was able to fall asleep and when I woke up, the anxiety had passed. Over the years I have struggled off and on with anxiety. For me, it has usually been a symptom of something deeper going on. Extreme stress, extreme fatigue, a need for some serious changes in my life. I have found that if I want the anxiety to really go away, I have to deal with these deeper issues. Make changes. But through it all, preaching the gospel to myself has kept me sane.
I in no way am going to claim that this is how you heal panic attacks. I have family members who have struggled with anxiety for years and they have had to come up with their own ways of coping, but having an anchor to hold on to while you figure it out is invaluable. Having a certainty that you are not alone and that someone a lot bigger than you is holding you even while you go through the storm, that is something I long for everyone to have. Preach the Gospel to yourself. Every day. It is life.