Don’t panic. I’m with you.
There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.
I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you.
I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you. (Isaiah 41:10 – MSG)
I’ve never experienced a panic attack; but the thought of one almost creates one for me. According to a quick search on the internet, the symptoms of a panic attack include:
Heightened vigilance for danger and physical symptoms.
Anxious and irrational thinking.
A strong feeling of dread, danger or foreboding.
Fear of going mad, losing control, or dying.
Feeling lightheaded and dizzy.
Tingling and chills, particularly in the arms and hands.
After reading through those symptoms, it helps me better understand why I started to feel anxious, threatened, and a bit lightheaded when I received an email informing me that one of the teachers at MNIC (the school renting the education wing of Family Baptist Church) was robbed at gunpoint a week ago in the middle of the afternoon on the corner of 23rd and Girard Ave N. Thankfully, the teacher wasn’t hurt! He did, however, relinquish his cell phone and laptop to the thugs assaulting him. To give you a bit of context, 23RD and Girard Ave N is the upper parking lot of Family Baptist Church and the location of the parsonage where we currently live.
A few days later, Heather mentioned to me that the warm and friendly string of lights that decorated our backyard had been clipped. The string of lights was left smashed on the ground. Immediately, I started to feel upset, anxious, and annoyed once again. What gives someone the right to reach over our 6-foot wooden fence and clip our lights? Does someone really oppose our efforts to seek the peace of the city by stealing our attempt to create a beautiful space of our own (Jeremiah 29:4-7)?
Was this the start of a panic attack? I don’t think so. It did heighten my vigilance for danger. I began to wonder if an old gang had moved back into our area and was making efforts to reclaim their territory. Anything is possible around North Minneapolis.
To make matters worse, I was scheduled to head out of town for a couple days and would be leaving my wife and boys behind to hold down the fort. This was the first time we were confronted with the cost of moving back into an urban center. Heather and I had a brief conversation about whether I should cancel my trip and remain home with her. She is an amazing woman! She assured me that she would be okay. We talked through a couple extra safety measures she could take while I was gone. We prayed together and she proceeded to take me to the airport.
The next day I called Heather to see how she and the boys had navigated their first night alone in the parsonage without me. My heart dropped when I discovered she had a story to share. After dropping me off at the airport, she ran to the store and purchased another string of lights to hang in our backyard. To her dismay, Heather woke up the next morning to find the string of lights in our backyard clipped once again. Did she panic? Did she grow anxious or threatened? No. She had caught the culprit in the very act of clipping the lights and ran out of the house to confront him! I could feel my blood pressure beginning to rise while she talked. To my surprise, the culprit ended up being one of the plump neighborhood squirrels! She had actually witnessed the squirrel, with string of lights in his paws, taking a bite out of the cord sending the third string of lights to the ground.
What a lesson I learned this past week about panic attacks and fear. Panic attacks describe what a person feels when confronted with something threatening his safety. It is real. It is scary. It can even be paralyzing.
The first step to overcoming a panic attack is distinguishing between fact and legitimate fear. I feared something bad happening to my family while I was gone. This was based on the fact that a schoolteacher had been robbed a couple yards from our house. I conveniently overlooked the fact that we are blessed to live in a house secured by a six-foot privacy fence, a private garage entrance into the backyard, a security system connected to the local police, a security camera on the outside of the house, a couple small but attentive dogs, deadbolts on each of our doors, and the appropriate home defense equipment ready for use if someone would be so foolish as to break in.
And what about the fact that Isaiah 41:10 reminds us of God’s presence, God’s power, and God’s provision when we are tempted to give in to fear? Read that verse one more time: Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you (Isaiah 41:10 – MSG).
Afterall, most of the time, the threats we experience are usually rodents not robbers. But, too often, we choose to give in to the panic of the unknown instead of setting our minds on things above and focusing on the facts.
So, don’t stop praying for us. We need to be reminded of God’s presence, His power, and His provision. But our return to the city has revealed that what we need most is to rest in these promises. Join me in asking God to help all of us focus on facts more than feelings!