coming out

When Paul was in chains in Rome, he rejoiced that the power of the gospel was seen in his weakness.

One thing that I have read continually from those who heard Ravi Zacharias speak is this: when he spoke, you knew you were in the presence of a great man. he was so articulate, so wise, so charismatic. He could work a crowd. He could answer any objection.

Paul was just the opposite. In fact, Paul said that he preached in weakness and trembling. He was ridiculed frequently for NOT being a great public speaker, or a skilled rhetorician.

As I was thinking these things, I decided to come out. I have hidden something about myself for many years. I’ve hidden it even from myself, preferring to beat myself up for not being quite right than acknowledging that I have a weakness that I can do very little about.

I have anxiety disorder. Whether it was inherited or whether it was learned through much experience, or perhaps a little of both, it is a chain around me that I cannot rid myself of.

My brain warns me that I am in danger and tells me to flee, usually at the most inopportune time.

My heart races. My face flushes. I break out in a sweat. I start to shake. My words start to stammer.

If it is bad, I won’t eat.

I wake up frequently in the middle of the night having conversations in my head, running events through my head over and over again – until I break out into a sweat and my body temperature goes up.

I read recently that Herman Bavinck, arguably the greatest theologian of the 20th century, vomited before every sermon.

I don’t vomit. But I completely identify with the sentiment.

I manuscript sermons because I don’t know when my mind will go blank. I rehearse conversations because I have no idea what to do in them.

Social events are exhausting. I tend to flee somewhere just to regroup. Weddings are torture.

My mind tells me that everything is OK. God is on the throne. I am just human. My conversation is fine.

But there is a part of my brain that attacks me during every single conversation:

“You are such an idiot. I can’t believe you said that. They are going to hate you now. You will be left alone. Don’t you know how to people?”

“You are doing this wrong. You are going to fail. You’ll never make this. They will think you are stupid.

I won’t try out a new restaurant if the ordering procedure is too different. I have never tried sushi. I have never attempted to do something new for fear of failing.

When I am in a new place, or trying something new that I am required to do, my heart races and I go into panic mode. “Failure deserves to be beaten, outcast, isolated, and alone.”

I would far, far rather serve the table than sit down at it and be served. When I am clearing dishes I know what is expected, and when I know what is expected, I don’t break out in a cold sweat and listen to my heart pound in my ears.

I have been like this as long as I could remember. When I was younger, I would pinpoint a person that I figured was an acceptable person and try to imitate them. Maybe I wouldn’t be rejected if I could be someone else.

But that is a hard way to live.

One of my earliest memories was being terrified of trying out the slide. My parents, not knowing what to do, spanked me until I went down.

I remember the absolute terror of my first fire drill when I was about 5. They should not allow children to be tortured like that.

I self-medicated with nicotene for years. It gave me a good excuse to leave any social situation and it would calm my panicked nerves. But when I quit several years ago, my panic attacks and anxiety would attack from out of nowhere.

Today I know that it has a name and there are things to do about it. I have anxiety disorder.

I have anxiety disorder.

My dad used to say that worrying about stuff never helped. He was fond of saying that the things he worried the most about never happened. I’m very glad for him.

For me, everything that I ever worried about actually did happen, but those are stories for another time.

The curse on this world is very real. People do things that are even worse than you can imagine. The hate that the world can throw at you is unfathomable.

Illness is real. Cancer is real. Brain damage is real. Suffering is real.

The cross is real, and if we are Jesus’ we will pick it up with him and follow him.

And like Paul, when those chains tie us down, paralyze us and keep us from doing what we want to do – God will show himself strong.

“How can you be a minister” – my anxiety tells me repeatedly.

And then I remember Paul’s words:

(1Corinthians:2:1-5)  And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:  That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

And so I’ve decided to quit pretending that I’m something I am not. I will speak the truth. I will teach from house to house. I will visit. I will call. I will do what I can to show the power of God in the cross of Christ.

But then I might have to sit down. I might have to go outside and regroup. I might need to do something to calm my pounding heart and my rapid breathing.

I’m not the kind of preacher that has everything together. When people see me, they don’t say, “I’m in the presence of a great man” and that’s OK.

Because if I can lead someone to the living water, if I can exalt the power of God, if I can tell you about the beauty of Jesus who sweat great drops of blood, who fell down terrified at Gethsemane in order to bring me to God – then it is all worth it. Because I also know that when I am at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, I will sit in his presence and rejoice and no longer panic. I will no longer feel like an outcast. I will no longer be an outsider looking in on the normals.

And that is what I long for. But more than that, I long to be free from sin and misery.

In the meantime, don’t look for me to exalt human strength. I don’t have any. When I am in God’s presence, it won’t do me any good anyway.

Instead, I have an anxiety disorder. And so I look to Jesus.

Jesus didn’t come for the well. He came for the sick. He didn’t come for the strong, he came for the weak and foolish – and that is me.

If you are like me, and struggle with these things, don’t be ashamed. Walk right into it, for Jesus is with you through the valley of the shadow of death.

I wrote these words so that you might not feel so alone. There are a lot of us out here. I just thought that you might want to meet one.

29 Comments

Filed under Anxiety, Hope

29 responses to “coming out

  1. Bunkababy

    Hey, if you were a creep with that so called eloquence I would have never hung around on your blog or FB. Nope. Never. I see a guy that everyone likes and I run away. History in my own life tells me to run.
    You didn’t give me pat answers. You gave me compassion. Your post about Tamar made me bawl my head off. It provoked something so deep inside me that no eloquent, captivating, smooth , flashy guy ever would. Those people are creeps.
    The other thing was when you said your wife had that disease which made her feel on fire.
    I knew then, you were my peeps. To know suffering so deeply and still not run away from God. I knew you were my peeps.
    I’d rather listen or read from a guy who has anxiety disorder than anybody else. You know suffering. And if you know those depths you know Jesus. Cuz he’s the only hope we have. You being you came through your written word. Your compassion stopped me in my tracks. It made me look at Jesus. Seriously. These aren’t just words. Sometimes I go back and read your blog about Tamar. I read my response. It still gets me.
    I don’t need a show or some dumb organization thinking they are the king of the world. It means NOTHING to me. I like you guys just the way you are. Christmas lights all year to boot.
    I know it sounds dumb. But I just discovered I have anxiety disorder and I am depressed. Duh. I got my friend Zoloft. It hasn’t even been 2 months and the difference is stunning to me. I can’t believe I didn’t think I had a problem until I was barely functioning this past few months.
    Everyday I actually thought I was gonna die. Anxiety is real. I’m sorry you have it too.
    Oh, and you don’t have to have answers. I would rather no answer than a fake BS shiny slimy God quote from a creep.

  2. Drennan

    Thank you. You are not alone either. I too struggle with anxiety disorders. Multiple anxiety disorders. And just admitting that can be difficult in some groups, particularly among other Believers because they have so often shamed me. And told me that seeking treatment was itself sinful. I no longer buy into this lie, by the way, that seeking emotional/ mental health treatment is somehow sinful.
    But yes, anxiety disorders can affect every aspect of my life. And certainly make me feel like an outsider, especially among others who are “of the household of faith.” Yet what I’ve learned is that Christ never makes me feel like an outsider.
    If my “only comfort in life and in death” is that I belong to Christ, I trust that this is the belonging that truly matters. Thank you for reminding me of this.

  3. Elizabeth

    Thank you for posting this. Thank you. Very much.

  4. Grace551

    Thank you. This is so helpful.

  5. notlongnow

    I’m so glad you wrote that. It’s exactly how I feel. It’s an excruciating and exhausting way to live but it is what it is and it keeps me dependent on Jesus.

    Thank you for sharing and I’m sorry you suffer from it too.

    I know so well that feeling of looking in on the ‘normals’ and feeling like an outcast as well.
    I find the feeling intensifies during periods of grief, depression and stress as well, to the point I know it’s mostly futile trying to be socialise in groups of people I don’t know during those times, unless I’m forced to for some reason. Horrible feeling.

    God bless and it helps to know I’m not the only one. I live like this every day. I was only just thinking today (after a cancer test) that I’m an anxious mess all the time. I don’t even bother hiding it from Drs anymore who I used to try and keep it together around. I was so anxious today (and the past few weeks) that I might have cancer again and I know I come across as so anxious.

    Even normal days are like that, but add in legit things to be anxious about and all composure goes out the window.

  6. Thank you for writing with such clarity and compassion. You have helped me get inside the heads of people I love very much. Now I hope to be able to love them more honestly, patiently, sacrificially, effectively.

  7. janetlynnem

    Sam, your words and your sermons and your love for your family and your honesty about weakness have been life-giving to me. I have bawled through some of your sermons because they touched me deeply and helped me see Jesus in the midst of my pain. I don’t have an anxiety disorder, but I do have ptsd and other issues from a lifetime of relationship with a narcissist. I find it hard to trust others. I am suspicious of most people, thinking they are just going to reject me or hurt me, again. Brain damage is real, and I live with it daily. Chronic pain is real, and I live with that moment by moment. But hope is real, too. Jesus is real! And you, my friend, point others to Him every time you preach or type your thoughts and send them out to bless those who read. I am grateful for you.
    And just a thought: have you watched Atypical on Netflix? It’s just a show, but it has helped me deal with my husband’s brain damage.

  8. Always appreciate your humility and honesty. A rare treat these days.

  9. noonedownhere

    I got to share music in church setting… just me… practiced for more than year on the thing. Have degrees that say I know how to perform. I am not a novice. And yet, right before, I almost passed out. Saw dots and everything. I am always so shocked when God uses great weakness like me to serve Him. But maybe not surprising… when you consider that such weakness means you are placing all of your whole being in the care of the Father. Definitely uncomfortable from human perspective, but isn’t this delightful to God? He is really receiving all the glory and we get to be a vessel to showcase that!

  10. Z

    Thank you for this honest sharing about your anxiety disorder for the benefit of those of us-like me-who suffer with the same. So we don’t feel alone. What a kind heart you have to do that.
    And also sharing for the purpose of glorifying Jesus’ all-sufficient strength in our weaknesses. In our anxiety. Yes, there are medications we take and calming methods we can try to calm down our hyperactive nervous systems. But even WITH those remedies, some of us still suffer greatly. I, like you, have a chronic pain condition. And CPTSD. But I do know the cause of my conditions. All my conditions were caused by abuses all my life by my family of origin. When I was helpless against them. My brain chemistry got “miswired” from all the stress chemicals flooding it all the time for so many years. I was abused while I was still in the womb. My father committed Domestic Violence on my mother when she was pregnant with me and all my life thereafter. And he physically abused all his children. My mother then also physically abused all her children to release her rage at being abused. A total mess of violence all my life into adulthood. So my constant worry and hypervigilance was justified. Like you alluded to, every bad thing I worried about DID happen to me. I expected them and this life filled with such hate and evil did not disappoint. (Until I called police on my abusers and went No Contact with them and their enablers after the latest violent criminal attack a few years ago. God allowed a bad situation-a violent attack-to accomplish something BETTER! My RELEASE from the bondage of abusive “family” forever! That’s how great God is!! He parted my “Red Sea” to lead me to an escape route! I am forever grateful.) So you are right that when we feel weak and helpless, God comes through with His strength FOR us.
    Yes, I too still battle anxiety symptoms and panic (and CPTSD triggers from the abuses) as well as daily chronic pain, because the damage to the brain from toxic stress is very real, but His Grace is sufficient. Even if I need it 24/7! God gave me a husband with the qualities similar to yours with your wife. And I love and cherish him the way your wife does you. God’s gift to me. His double portion blessing for my pain. And when everyone turned against me for “calling the police of family” (for a felony CRIME!), I still have my husband and I will always have Jesus as my constant and faithful friend.
    My only “anxiety question” to you, as someone who is wise and who knows anxiety, is this: Does your anxiety coupled with your deep love for your wife (I know you have a daughter too-I have no children) cause you to worry about losing her? I mean more than the average “normal” would worry? I have fear every time my husband leaves the house. I fear something bad will happen to him. I fear he will become ill and I’ll lose him. I know not to idolize the gift God have me. I don’t. I cherish it and I’m grateful he’s truly saved and I’ll see him in heaven. But here on earth I always expect the worst because that’s what my life-this world- has taught me. Many more traumas beyond family violence and hatred by many people. “Christians” mostly. So I isolate. And I depend on my husband for everything earthly. And I know Jesus will walk through any tragedy that could happen to my husband. But I pray that I die before him all the time. That’s the anxiety talking, I know. Just wondered if you had the same worry about the wife you love so much and who loves you so much and how you deal with it if you do? I know I need to stop those anxious thoughts of doom. Can you provide any thoughts on how to stop them?
    Thank you again, so much, for your encouragement to all of us who suffer anxieties and chronic pain, depression…Coming from a man of God with such unbelievable wisdom from God who has lifted me so many times with your writings, yet admits weaknesses, this gives me more hope than ever before.

    • Thank you for your kind words. And yest, I have similar worries. More than those particular ones, I worry that I won’t be able to provide and we’ll be homeless and….on and on.
      I remind myself of Jesus words – sufficient unto the day is the trouble thereof.
      And then I try to center my thoughts. I focus on the leaves and the sound of water and the movement through the trees…
      And I remember the Heidelberg – “and for what is future, have good confidence in our faithful God and Father, since no creature shall separate us from his love…”
      And then I remember that the feeling will pass. Horrible things might indeed happen, but God has seen me through horrible things and will see me through them again….

  11. Z

    Sorry to add to a long comment but I forgot to I was told by many Christian teachers, leaders, congregants/“friends” that anxiety is an “evil spirit” that we need to be delivered from. That it’s “spiritual bondage”. I never bought into that nonsense. THAT kind of thinking and teaching is BONDAGE!

    • notlongnow

      You just reminded me of my most recent experience at trying to go to a church. I would seek counsel from the pastors wife, due to overwhelming anxiety after becoming homeless and my husband divorcing me, all in a 2 month period. She would rebuke me and say I had “unbelief”. Then would preach at me.
      One time I said “I can’t receive that from you” when she was preaching at me (because it was easy for her to say with her safe life, loving husband, financial security etc). The next day I broke a bone at work and was told by the pastor and his wife God had broken my bone for punishment because I said that to her the night before. Later when I said I was offended by that, the wife changed it to it was because of my “serious sin of unbelief”. (All my anxiety over my life falling apart, fears of how I would provide for myself, grief over losing my husband etc). They used a Jim Berg curriculum (Quieting the noisy soul) and it wasn’t until I really researched that, that I was able to put two and two together. Their whole theology was built on a lack of compassion for people and the whole ‘everything is sin’ thing. Horrible loveless stuff.

      • I am so sorry that you were so mistreated – and in the name of Jesus! Horrible.
        I always wonder what these kind of people did with the book of Psalms, or Job, or Paul’s openness with his weaknesses. It is just prosperity gospel, “Reformed” style.
        It has to go.

    • I forgot to say…And I loved your “long” comment.
      I think this is the “communion of the saints” in practice. We share one anothers’ burdens.

      • Z

        Oh, Pastor, thank you for that accepting, welcoming comment! I didn’t think I could appreciate you more, after your previous wise, compassionate and understanding answer to my long comment, but I DO! God bless you so abundantly for your encouragement and for actually BEING the hands and feet of Jesus on this blog. “Sharing one another’s burdens”-a new concept for me. I haven’t experienced much of that in Christian circles. Sadly.
        I very much appreciate your answers to my questions. And I thank you for your suggested “antidotes” to those heavy worries we share. I’m going to make a real effort to try them. And to remember that even when I didn’t know it and didn’t feel it, Jesus was giving me what I needed to survive, as you said, day by day. I’d have perished under the weight of it all as a child if He’d not been walking with me through it. But He was and is. Praise His Name!

      • ” struck down but not destroyed” by Pierce Taylor Hibbs is very helpful for anxiety.

  12. Aaaaaah…. thank you, thank you, many inadequate thank you’s for writing this. I used to wonder about you, “why does this guy get things so few others do? Where does this compassion come from?” And now I know what fire it is that has refined you and is refining you, the fire that you are allowing to refine you even more by admitting to it publicly so openly and transparently.

    It takes heroic virtue few understand — unless they’ve suffered similarly — to do much of anything when in the grips of genuine anxiety. I once thought of myself as World’s Biggest Chicken until a dear friend pointed out that it took courage to live any semblance of a normal life while in the grips of fear and anxiety, that merely getting out of bed some mornings took an effort of bravery and hope that few understood and that was a gift from God.

    At the worst of my PTSD, I finally succumbed to the wisdom of doctors and took Zoloft. And it was amazingly helpful. I remember, after some weeks on it, standing at my sink washing dishes and crying out of sheer gratitude. Is this how “normal” feels?

    For much of my life, I beat myself up with “be anxious for nothing!” and I let others beat me up as well. It took a Christian therapist and a group of awesome, wise, compassionate sisters in suffering to get me to finally accept that I had some diagnosed conditions that needed treatment. I wasn’t just a sinner. I was a sinner suffering from PTSD, and from the depression and anxiety that went along with that.

    So I’ve had a little taste of what you have and are enduring. And it makes me love and respect you as a brother all the more.

  13. Aimee

    Thank you for sharing your struggles. It helps a lot.
    What do you think about the comment from friends who know I am going through a hard time: “You are doing so well.” What does it mean? If this is “doing well” then what does “doing badly” look like??
    I’m holding it together – that is what they mean. I used to imagine I was swimming through rough seas but would eventually reach land. Now I don’t feel like the Christian ever reaches land until the next life. Besides my “actual” problems, my incompetences – and, let’s face it – sinful attitudes drive me crazy – BUT the Lord DOES uphold me through it all. I know this because He tells me so through his Word.

  14. just ... K

    Pastor Powell, this was such a brave and wonderful thing to do! Thank you! One of the reasons people come back to you over and over again, is that when you write you live and breathe. I never feel that I’m in the presence of someone who has simply memorized Bible verses and theology here – but someone who is looking around them and SEES. You see pain, people, beauty, suffering, joy … There are a myriad of ways that your blog points me back to Christ and to God – thank you.

    I had hoped that someone else would post something about this and waited, but no one has. Have you ever heard of Sensory Processing Sensitivity? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensory_processing_sensitivity

    “”an increased sensitivity of the central nervous system and a deeper cognitive processing of physical, social and emotional stimuli”.The trait is characterized by “a tendency to ‘pause to check’ in novel situations, greater sensitivity to subtle stimuli, and the engagement of deeper cognitive processing strategies for employing coping actions, all of which is driven by heightened emotional reactivity, both positive and negative”.

    In other words, people with this personality trait (estimated between 15-20% of the population), live life processing far more data from the world around them and easily become overwhelmed. They are far more likely to have anxiety and to feel that they are not coping.

    In other words do you have a disorder Pastor Powell, or are you just “fearfully and wonderfully made” in a different way? (Which won’t make the feelings of overwhelm go away. People with this trait live in a world that feels like it is too much for them. It’s overwhelming.)

    Dr Elaine Aron was the first person to coin the term “Highly Sensitive Person” and she has a blog: https://hsperson.com/ – where she links to many studies that have been done that have found this trait present in a number of different species, it has been discovered in about 100 different animals at this point too. It’s important to note that it’s not really an *emotional* trait – it’s actually a physical reality in the biological makeup of the person who has it, brain scans of people who have it, show that they process information in a completely different way.

    All this to say that the reason I am sharing it, is because you may not have a disorder – per se, but a gift. (A gift that is difficult to live with, yes.) But I suspect that it is that gift that you give to us through your blog. You’re different. You’re real. You’re you.

    Thank God for this, and thank you!

  15. Z

    Dear just…K,
    I appreciate how well you expressed exactly what I feel is Pastor Powell’s “gift”- among many others. I agree 100% with all you wrote. “Fearfully and wonderfully made” does describe the reason so many of us are drawn to Pastor Powell’s writings. We can FEEL the empathy. He admits to the “overwhelm” that being so empathetic and sensitive to not only our suffering can cause. But he also always tempers that overwhelm with his keen senses for beauty all around us. And he always points us to the beauty of and sufficiency of Jesus!
    Your post helped me put my own anxiety in perspective. I, too, am fearfully and wonderfully made by the Most Beautiful One.
    Yes, being Highly Sensitive comes with the overwhelm. It can feel horrendous. But all is temporary in this world. Pastor advised me to focus on TODAY and not to borrow trouble from tomorrow-as Jesus said. I’m trying to do that more.
    But having a community of believers here, helping one another as Jesus would want us to do, led by a Pastor who is a good and kind shepherd, doctrinally reliable, sound and wise, wonderfully fun and unique, and so empathetic, is priceless.
    A gift from above for me!

  16. Anu Riley

    It took me WAY too long to finally read this; am so glad I did. Your descriptions were so “on the nose” with much of my own:

    “My heart races. My face flushes. I break out in a sweat. I start to shake. My words start to stammer.”

    I’ll deal with the conversations in my head, mind racings as well but not necessarily at night. But it’s a 24/7 deal; it doesn’t “go to sleep” when you do, and “wake up” when you do.

    “Social events are exhausting.” I used be very social; they became exhausting after my thyroid diagnosis. I had very little energy to socialize; O felt rejected by those were used to me reaching out and (IMO) doing more of the “work” to be relational with them.

    Maybe they thought I no longer cared about them? If only they knew the truth; I had no idea what was going on.

    “My mind tells me that everything is OK. God is on the throne. I am just human.” I don’t know how many times I told myself that, tried to tell myself it was all on me.

    “You are such an idiot. I can’t believe you said that. They are going to hate you now. You will be left alone….They will think you are stupid.” Pastor, are you in my head?? No joke. Worst part is, I believe ALL of those things came true :-(. I tell myself that i pushed people away due to saying stupid, insensitive things and apologies on my part would make no difference.

    By the way, I HAD tried to initiate apologies at times. Other times I don’t think I was told I had said foolish things; the cold shoulders I experienced only strengthened that false (or true?) narrative.

    “When I am in a new place, or trying something new that I am required to do, my heart races and I go into panic mode.” Now I’m selfish, a slave to routine, stuck in a rut, not a risk taker, insecure and/or insensitive—-take your pick, all of these things (and more) reduce my worth, because only the strongest are allowed to survive. I thought survival of the fittest isn’t a Biblical theme. It’s not! But we sure don’t act like it.

    “When I was younger, I would pinpoint a person that I figured was an acceptable person and try to imitate them. Maybe I wouldn’t be rejected if I could be someone else.” You’re starting to creep me out; this is too dang close to home! This is exactly, 100% what I experienced.

    Your terrors as a child, and how you were treated, mimic my own.

    “For me, everything that I ever worried about actually did happen, but those are stories for another time..” Agreed! I’ll just share one of mine: I was always afraid of being left alone, rejected by nearly everyone. It did happen.

    When I think about you, or read your work, my mind doesn’t think: I’m in presence of “great man.” My mind thinks: I’m in the presence of a “real person.” I would rather have the latter, any time, any day. I do not think “greatness” is evil, but it’s far more relatable to deal with realness.

    And ironically it takes greatness to admit issues that are “not-so-great!” Like anxiety.

    Thank you for those reminders at the end. I’ve thought about them often; God isn’t delighted by the strength of a horse, the power of warrior. But they wouldn’t sink in; those around me are obviously impressed by strength and stamina, both of which I lack big time. I would often wonder why so many persons are attracted to snobbery.

    Then I remembered; people like them are often seen and treated as winners. People like me are lied to and treated like losers.

    Well, no snob, full of his or her own strength but lacking in humility, will bend over and wash feet. Sometimes I think feeling low and dirty, ugly and useless, gives me the eyes to see how many others are feeling just like that, maybe even worse.

    thank you for fulfilling the purpose of this post; I DO feel just a little less alone!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s