“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me…”
The first time I ever felt my chest tighten like it could cut off all airflow to my body was 8 years ago. I was less than a year into a job I loved but then my boss left and I took over the entire department. I was only 26, younger than everyone else in my department, and I felt like I was in over my head. Who said I had the authority to lead this?
I returned from a month overseas and my husband and I were praying about moving to the Middle East while doing this job. To top it off my grandmother, more like a second mom to me, ended up in hospice after a fall. I would run from work to the hospice, grabbing fast food on the way, trying to juggle a million things in my head and heart.
The physicians assistant told me it was my childhood asthma that was rearing it’s ugly head again and making me unable to feel like I could catch my breath. The medicine didn’t help and I found myself again sitting in the doctor’s office.
This time my doctor and friend didn’t even have to touch me to diagnose in a moment the anxiety that was wreaking havoc on my body. Part of me felt relieved that I wasn’t also dying in the midst of all of the chaos in my life at that moment, but then there were all the doubts.
Why? What am I doing wrong? Is it a spiritual problem? Can I handle this on my own or do I need to be put on medication?
I found ways to deal with the anxiety. Yoga would help my chest to not feel so tight. Running, praying, hot baths, journaling. There were things I could do, so I felt in control again. But throw in a new country within the year, another family illness when I was a world away and couldn’t even be there to help, and the rug was pulled out from under me again.
This time I pleaded with God to take the anxiety away. I knew I wasn’t in control of what was happening to my body any more than I was in control of the circumstances that brought me to this place. In time, it passed again…
Tomorrow I may feel a little less at home in this body, but that just means I need to relinquish control to the only one who has it anyway.
Years later there was an incidence of anxiety brought on by two impending international trips on top of a full-time job and two kids, to-do lists that had me drowning. Take it away, Lord! Please! I am slow at math but I finally reasoned: stress + me = meltdown.
So, I slowed down and began to say “no” to extra events. I was writing again, working out regularly, had a firm grasp on life. But the world started to spin anyway – again.
I would rock my three year old to sleep and curl up next to him, welcoming the way sleep shut out my struggles for breath. I would retreat into that sleep for hours longer a night than I needed, just to escape. I felt like I was drowning in my own body.
That is when I started to think of Paul and the thorn that God gave him to keep him humble. Whatever the affliction was that Paul suffered from, it kept him focused on God’s strength as he knew he was too weak on his own to manage. Could the battles I have had with anxiety be more than pressure applied resulting in explosion?
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”
Oh, I was weak alright. I could hardly function and it was only the thought of His grace that I could cling to. I thought of Paul and all God used him to accomplish despite his weaknesses, maybe because of them. My anxiety started to feel less like an affliction and more like an opportunity…
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
Have I learned to boast in my weakness, to rejoice when my lungs feel like collapsing? Not yet, but today I can breathe and I have energy to write, to enjoy my kids, to do the jobs God has called me to do.
Tomorrow I may feel a little less at home in this body, but that just means I need to relinquish control to the only one who has it anyway. It is when I am at my weakest, that I have the opportunity to let His power rest on me.
(Quotations from 1 Corinthians 12:7-9, NIV)