“I was being utterly consumed by fear, tension, stress and panic. I found that I couldn’t form the words to pray anymore.”
Nothing had prepared me for what was to come at the beginning of 2014—for the sheer duration and the intensity of the tsunami that was quietly barreling at breakneck speed to overwhelm my world. Maybe I should have seen it coming, if I’d only noticed the handwriting on the wall. But how do you anticipate the perfect storm? Even right now, in this moment, I can’t go back to that dark place without completely unnerving my present.
I have survived many panic attacks—even a few that lasted for a day or so. But forty days? Day after day of not being able to get a deep breath; not being able to think clearly; not being able to go to work; not being able to interact with people around me without intense effort; not being able to worship or pray or have any semblance of peace. Even in small moments of relief, my level of fear never got below a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10.
I was already due for a sabbatical. I was tired and weary. The church was in turmoil because God was shaking things up, and I was the guy sitting in the driver’s seat. After fifteen and a half years of leading the church with a solid, biblical approach, I found that trust in my leadership had begun to unravel in six short months because of changes I made in spiritual and ministerial methodology that I felt were necessary. My reputation was challenged. My friends and co-leaders were vilified. My connections with other churches were held suspect. All hell was breaking loose, so to speak. People were leaving the church without knowing the facts. Friends who held leadership positions in our church turned their backs and walked out without even talking to me. To say it was a mess was an understatement.
I’m not blaming God, although I think He started it. Honestly, my team and I could have done many things better to lead through this period. We own that. I own that. We could have handled this season better had we been more solid as a leadership team, but that’s where things only got worse …
And then came the day when life went from terrible to catastrophic. My fear was at an all-time high. I was pacing around the house and mumbling to myself. The level was a 10 out of 10. I couldn’t take it anymore. I went upstairs to get away from everyone, put on some worship music, and began to cry out to God for help. This time, however, with every stanza of worship music, my condition worsened. I could feel my sanity slipping away. I desperately wanted to escape. I couldn’t flee from myself, but there was no one else to fight. No matter where I went, there I was.
I was being utterly consumed by fear, tension, stress, and panic. I quickly found that I couldn’t even form the words to pray anymore. No relief. Somehow my mind was so distorted that every thought of God brought a sense of doom and fear. I could only picture judgment, rejection, and anger from my Lord. God, my only hope and help, became the manifested form of my fear. If there was ever evidence of spiritual attack intensifying my anxiety, this moment was the pinnacle.
I eventually shut off the worship music. I lay there and shook and cried, but even crying couldn’t adequately express the intensity of my emotions.
It was the darkest hour of my life.