Back during my sophomore year in college I began to struggle with anxiety for the first time in my life. I remember the day that things began to change. I began to focus obsessively on anything and everything, but I didn’t know how allowing my mind to do that would snowball over the next several months. Over those months I would for the first time feel the weight of depression, social anxiety, and panic attacks.
There were days that I thought I was really alone though I had friends and family surrounding me. I was so stressed that my face and hands would tingle as the stress of the day would pile up. I didn’t want to go hang out with friends or even leave my dorm room at all. Everything in life had lost its taste. Every evening I’d lay my head on my pillow and wonder if it was my last. Life had spiraled out of control very quickly.
During Christmas break I went to the doctor because of a cold. Little did I know I’d end up in the emergency room shortly after entering the doctor’s office. My heart rate that morning just sitting in the doctor’s office was something like 170 beats per minute. That number would be higher after arriving at the ER. My limbs were tingling as my body went into protective mode.
I would describe the next three and a half to four years as time spent in the wilderness. It was still a struggle to go hang out with friends, to eat at restaurants, and to get up in front of a church and lead worship. I asked why a whole lot. I didn’t want to believe that the doctor’s diagnosis was correct. I was an easy-going guy who didn’t let much bother him who had turned into someone who freaked out at the drop of a hat.
Where was God? Why had he left me here? Why wouldn’t he take this away from me? Why God, why?
For the past couple weeks I have been listening to Elevation Worship’s newest album Wake Up The Wonder. One particular song has been on repeat…
“Thank You for the wilderness
Where I learned to thirst for Your presence
If I’d never known that place
How could I have known You are better?
Thank You for the lonely times
When I learned to live in the silence
As the other voices fade
I can hear You calling me, Jesus
Thank You for the scars I bear
They declare that You are my healer
How could I have seen your strength
If You never showed me my weakness?
And it’s worth it all, just to know You more” – Elevation Worship – Great Things (Worth It All)
I really wish that at any point of my battle with depression and anxiety through those years that I had stopped and just trusted God. That I been able to say, “God I don’t know why I’m here, But I trust You.” I fought, pleaded, and complained to Him without once just stopping to realize that even though it was painful that maybe God had me right where he wanted me.
Through out Paul’s time in ministry you get the sense that he did not question whether or not God had him where He wanted him. Whether in jail or being tortured he trusted that God was with him. Paul writes in Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Being in the wilderness sucks, it’s lonely, and it hurts. But “if we’d never been in that place how could we have known Him better?”
It’s been years now since I’ve been in that wilderness place and still don’t think my heart truly reflects the words of that song, but I can see how God has used it for the good of others in my life.
The biggest thing I have taken away is my ability to empathize with those struggling with the same things. Everybody is different. There are no two cases of depression or anxiety that are alike, which is part of what makes treatment so tricky, but being able to say that I have had my own battle has allowed me the opportunity to encourage friends and family who have battled the same stuff.
I hope that next time it seems that I am in the wilderness that I will trust God in those moments. However hard, however lonely, however terrifying, I know that God is working things for good and He is near.
How do you remind yourself to trust God in tough and lonely times? What experiences have you had in the wilderness? I know that there are a lot of folks who struggle with similar issues, how do you keep your faith in the middle of it?