on panic attacks: 2 Cor. 13

read 2 Cor. 13.  “You’re having a panic attack, and I don’t think this is the first time.”

A pastor said this to me once right after I was informed I was getting divorced.  What?! I thought.  A panic attack?


Oh, you mean THAT’S what we call those times when you can’t sleep; when your mind is racing; when you want to tell someone off but they inconveniently aren’t in front of you so you have to – gulp – wait before you can rant; when you imagine only the worst and use the worst as a springboard to the EVEN worse; when you let your mind run down the rabbit holes of WHAT IFS…..

Well then, I’m sorry but if that’s a panic attack, I bet most people have panic attacks sometimes.  We just don’t call them that.  Obviously, they can range in intensity of symptoms, duration and frequency, but here is one website’s definition of them:

“The signs and symptoms of a panic attack develop abruptly and usually reach their peak within 10 minutes. Most panic attacks end within 20 to 30 minutes, and they rarely last more than an hour.

A full-blown panic attack includes a combination of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
  • Heart palpitations or a racing heart
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Choking feeling
  • Feeling unreal or detached from your surroundings
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or faint
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Fear of dying, losing control, or going crazy

To be honest, I wasn’t actually having those symptoms.  I was just upset and scared.  But hey, I’m willing to call that kind of intense fear a panic attack, even if I wasn’t having hot flashes.  So what do we do about it, these onslaughts of fear (see – just another way to say PANIC ATTACK) that assault us all at times?

The only lasting way to get to a peace strong enough to carry us through our weakest moments is by going through the cross.  Why?  Because there in the moment of Christ’s greatest weakness lies the secret.  If God Himself could sweat so intensely it looked like drops of blood, why do we think God can’t understand it when we work ourselves up into a lather?   If God himself could be stripped naked, beaten, abused, slapped, reviled and humiliated – why do we think God can’t understand when we are panicked that we’ve done something wrong, or we can’t fix a problem, or that we are going to lose everything we’ve spent our whole lives working for?

I don’t know, but we do think that.  We just plain forget.  We lose sight of the fact that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. Why can’t we just let go of our pride and say to our weaknesses: BRING IT ON!  The truth we forget is that the worse the circumstances, the more room for God’s power to move in a mighty way.  Christ is powerful among us.  We are weak, just as Christ was when he was crucified in weakness, but we can also be made alive in Christ. Because Christ experienced the most fearful circumstances possible – the hell we imperfect humans deserve – He can lift us to heavenly peace.   Like Christ, the weaker and more knock-kneed we feel, the more room we make for the power of God to move through us.  2 Cor. 13:4-5  (“Christ is not weak when he deals with you; he is powerful among you. 4 Although he was crucified in weakness, he now lives by the power of God. We, too, are weak, just as Christ was, but when we deal with you we will be alive with him and will have God’s power.”)

The power of God is so mighty.  Paul can springboard from talking about our weakness to exhorting us to joy, because Paul knows that the moment we take that leap of faith from fear to trust – even trusting Him with our oh-no-I-can’t-think-straight-see-straight-walk-straight-talk-straight moments – we WILL be filled with joy.  Because as Stephen Colbert has on a post-it note on his computer: joy is the sign of the Holy Spirit.  If we relax our death grip on our intense (and ungodly) desire to control our circumstances, and trust Him instead, we get joy instead of panic.

How good does that sound?

So yes, sometimes we all feel afraid.  Sometimes, we are all overwhelmed with fear.  Yes, I will say it out loud: sometimes we all have panic attacks.  But if we hand them over to the Lord God Almighty, with a trusting heart – and call or text all our praying brothers and sisters in Christ and ask them to come alongside us in prayer – we can indeed do as Paul here instructs us: “Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.”

I don’t know about you, but I WANT the God of love and peace to be with me.  And if we lean on Him, He will give us peace in place of fear. So maybe it isn’t the first time we’ve panicked, but when panic hits, we no longer have to fear the fear.  We can instead hand our weakness over to the author of joy and peace, the one who made us, the one who faced the most dreadful circumstance so we don’t ever have to.  And then we can breathe, deeply, while we wait to see the incredible good He will bring out of our fear.

posted by Caroline Coleman on Thursday Oct. 30, 2014



the death of loneliness: 2 Cor. 12

(Rd. 2 Cor. 12.)      “I don’t want to come out of the stone,” she said aloud.

You may have read THE GOOD EARTH as a teenager, as I did.  Pearl S. Buck won the Pulitzer for it and soon after she won the Nobel.  But I stumbled on a novel of hers recently called THIS PROUD HEART.  I couldn’t put it down.  It’s about a woman who loves her family but also loves her art.  She’s a sculptor.  When she’s with her family she feels only half alive, and when she’s sculpting she feels only half alive.  She longs for both.  Both complete her.

And yet she always has the loneliness, always.  Her eyes are drawn to the woods beyond her house.  When people speak to her, half of her mind is elsewhere.  She is dreaming.  She is asking questions of herself, questions of her art.  A grumpy male sculptor tells her she has to give up her family.  He says an artist must be alone.  But she knows better.  She says her life is what gives art to her craft.

But the loneliness she feels, even when praised, points to a loneliness inside us all that neither career nor family can touch.  It’s a loneliness, I think, for God.  It’s hard to comprehend because so many of us associate the word God with formality.  Many associate the word God with cruelty.  Some associate the word God with the way the earth was when God first created it – formless, without void.  We think of God as an absence.

But God is presence.  He is warmth.  He is love.  He is laughter.  He is light.  He is the thing our souls ache for from the moment we arise to the moment we fall asleep.  We seek Him in our dreaming and in our waking.  And what we fail to realize is that He, too, is seeking us.  He is stretching out His arms to us at the same time as we stretch our arms out to Him.  We meet there in that endless embrace, and if we could only let ourselves believe it, realize it, sense it, perceive it, perhaps just accept it, we would experience an eternal bliss even here in the temporal.

Paul tries to write about that bliss here in this beautiful chapter in 2 Corinthians 12.  He describes being caught up in visions and revelations from the Lord.  He describes a “third heaven.”  I love that it had happened 14 years prior to Paul’s writing.  Perhaps it took him 14 years to find the courage to tell anyone.  But he tells it now, here, in this chapter.  He lets rip with the glory of it.  “Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know – only God knows.  Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body.  but I do know that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.” 2 Cor. 12:1-4.  But Paul is telling.  He is trying.  He is intimating.  He can’t hold it in.  As David once said, if we try to hold in the beautiful things God shows us, the very stones will cry out.

For Susan Gaylord, in the novel THIS PROUD HEART, the very stones do cry out.  As a sculptor, she feels her creations speaking to her from marble.  She listens, trying to free them.  Just so, does God listen to us, to the cries of our heart.  He, too, wants to free us.  He wants to free us from prisons of darkness, of shame, of blame, of inadequacy, of indecision, of sin, of an existential sense that all that we are doing is futile, just as David’s son Solomon once wrote.  To a human with an infinite soul made in the image of God, to seek satisfaction from this world alone is futile.

Yet the tension is inescapable because we are also creatures of clay.  God didn’t make us for abstraction.  He made us for real life.  Our families and careers are gifts from God, to be treasured, relished and yes, redeemed.  When Jesus comes again, he will make a new heaven and a new earth.  The things of this world matter.  The most beautiful thing in this beautiful chapter isn’t even Paul’s attempt to try to explain the glory of God He was shown in visions.  Instead, it is Paul’s wrestling with God about Paul’s weakness.  Most of us have heard of Paul’s thorn in the flesh.  Many speculate what it was.  The answer is it’s like the rat cage in George Orwell’s 1984.  It’s the thing that breaks us.  But while Big Brother strapped the rat cage on the protagonist’s head in 1984 in order to break him of his identity, God allows weaknesses in our lives to help us realize our true identities.

Because God knows that our pride is what imprisons us in the worst way.  Satan and the angels who followed him were thrown from heaven for wanting to be like God – and we make ourselves miserable when we follow suit.  We have to be broken, over and over, of our desire to be God.  It hurts.  We hate it.  But in the end it makes us beautiful.  It frees us.  It gives us dignity.  We learn as Paul did that God’s power works best in weakness. God’s grace is all we need:

“So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.  Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.  Each time he said, “My grace is all you need.  My power works best in weakness.’  So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.  That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  2 Cor. 12:7-10.

I’m not sure we can begin to fully understand how our weakness makes us strong.  But I do know that the more we ask God to remove our pride, to humble us, to use us despite our weakness, the more joy He gives us.  Because how else are we to rid ourselves of the things that make us miserable – “quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorderly behavior”? 2 Cor. 12:20.  In short, how are we to free ourselves, by ourselves, of hard hearts, of hearts of stone, of hearts that think that being in charge will complete us?

Somehow everything that we are and long to be is tied up with the cross.  Our loneliness finds it fullest expression there.  When we see God Himself dying for us and experiencing the loneliest moment of all, we can perhaps start to take in that because of His sacrifice we are never alone.  Jesus cried out on the cross the loneliest cry: “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  To be apart from God is what we all should experience, because we choose to live apart from Him all the time.  But in His love, He excluded Himself so He could welcome us in.

That’s why loneliness is dead.  God already experienced the loneliness we have chosen when we choose to live apart from Him, so we could be with Him in glory forever.  It’s the thing we most want, although we fail to realize it.  God became stone so we could come out of it. He asks only that we allow Him to open our eyes to the beauty of how God can soften even us – if we are willing to allow Him to mold us as a potter His clay.  We don’t want to come out of stone.  But God will help us even start to want the best things.  He will take even our loneliness if we let Him and use it for His glory.  Because that’s what He always does with all of our weaknesses.  He sculpts them into something beautiful.  He brings shape out of the void.  He is an artist who has loved each of us as His own unique creation, created for His glory.  It feels like weakness to love on this earth, but we have no choice but to let love pull us to the ground.  For it completes us, as we are made in the image of the one who is love.

posted by Caroline Coleman on October 22, 2014.  If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy my novel, LOVING SOREN: