Preaching panic attack

August 16th, 2021

Anxiety is a lie. The worst kind of lie. The kind your own mind and body tell you. Mine tells me that people will hate me. Leave me. That things will snowball beyond my control. That an insignificant incident will become an uncontrollable catastrophe.

If you deal with anxiety, your body tells you a lion is chasing you, that you must run…NOW!
It’s tough not knowing what the truth is. But over time I’ve learned to understand the signs that my mind and body are lying.

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The dates might be different, but the pattern is the same. It’s never happened on Sunday morning while preaching. Sure, I knew it could. I always get nervous. But so does everybody else who speaks to a large crowd.

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This particular Sunday was different. I’m speaking a little fast when I start. So I take a deep breath; I try to slow down. It’s what I always do. My leg starts shaking. A primal response. My body preparing to run from the lion.

…It’s okay. It’ll relax. It always does. I can’t catch my breath. My mouth’s dry. …I take a sip of water to give myself a chance to calm down. I always do. I feel my heart beating in my chest. Not a normal steady rhythm, but the beat of a heart running on adrenaline. …It’ll slow down. It always does. My heartbeat gets louder and louder. Soon I hear it over the sound of my own voice. …It’s not the same as it always is. This one’s different. I reach for another sip of water. I watch my hand shake as I bring it to my mouth and set it down on the table. I’m dizzy. My palms are dripping. …I’m having a panic attack... on Sunday morning... while preaching.

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My body and mind are caught in the lies: …You’ll lose your job. …Nobody will come back to church …You’ll disappoint your boss, your family, yourself. …Nobody will understand. …God won’t help you…this is on you, it’s your fault, your mess, He’s out. …You're alone. The lies hurt.

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Over the previous ten years I’ve learned that the best way to counter the lies is with the truth. Sounds simple. It’s anything but easy. I know I can’t hide my anxiety from others while literally every eye is on me. I have two options: run or fight….and I can’t out-run anxiety. Time to fight. I use the only weapon I have. I stop preaching. No explanation. “I’m going to pray.” It’s time to name the lie & declare the truth: …I acknowledge God. I’m running to Jesus for help. He knows me. He knows my struggle. He’s safe. …I confess: "I’m excited about this message. But I’m anxious." …I name what I feel: "This is embarrassing." …I pause to take a deep breath. …I remind myself aloud that "I’m with family. A family that I’m united with in a more profound way than my relatives. …I pray that God would use this moment to encourage somebody else who is dealing with anxiety because I know I’m not alone. Amen."

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I say "thank you" to everybody present. Somebody in the back yells they love me. I appreciate that. I tell them I love them back.

Then I finish the sermon. Panic is under control. I am still anxious, but no longer panicking.

And I’m thankful. Thankful to my God for allowing me to come and that Jesus is faithful in responding. Thankful to our community for allowing me to be vulnerable…for being able to bring lies out of the dark where they flourish into the light where they die. Perhaps on this Sunday I'm most thankful that God is already using this to encourage others who fight the same battle.

Anxiety tells people they are alone. They now know at least one more person who's in the fight.

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Sometimes anxiety overwhelms me. But it’s a liar. It will not control me. That job is already taken by Jesus.

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