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