One of my first clear childhood memories is of having a panic attack. I was 5 years old and convinced I was going to die. I was panicking because I feared dying and going to hell. I remember lying in bed and as the scary thoughts began to invade it felt like the darkness would consume me. My parents had just started going to church and I had learned about good and evil and that there was a God and also a devil. I can say with confidence that I was not told that I was going to hell, yet as a bright and analytical child I realized that if hell existed, there was a possibility I could end up there. The thought unraveled me. How could it not? If you have an absolute, egocentric belief of a heaven and a hell – the only way a five year old’s brain can comprehend such things- it is an earth shattering, terrifying ordeal to imagine yourself ending up there. I don’t know what your belief system is, but from my personal experience it seems that the moment I was told of The Light, the darkness began fighting dirty for my heart and my peace. As the thoughts overwhelmed my mind I raced out of my room seeking comfort from my parents. I couldn’t breathe and I doubt I was able to communicate what was happening to me. The next thing I remember is being in the bathroom and my mom looking up at my father saying, “I think she’s having an anxiety attack,” and then I threw up.
My son is five years old and looking at him I realize the magnitude and unusual nature of what I experienced at that young age. My son is a passionate personality who feels deeply – much like me. Yet, I have never seen him as upset as I was, to the point of hyperventilating and vomiting? What was going on with me? Where did these dark, terrifying fears come from? Why did I have an innate sense that there was a battle for my heart and that I had an enemy that hated me and wanted me dead?
I continued learning about the light and heard of a man named Jesus who died to save me. Save me from hell? Sign me up! I told my parents that I heard God telling me that if I gave Him my heart He would give me His peace. (I don’t think I could have thought that up on my own at 5?) My mom taught me the verse John 14:27 and I memorized it to battle the anxiety I wrestled with every day: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid.” I clung to this verse and repeated it over and over to myself when the scary thoughts whispered into my ears at night. I never had another panic attack, but a low level anxiety was always with me and I learned how to talk myself down when it began to grow into a panic.
My desire for peace pushed me into trying to be a perfect child who pleased everyone and always put the needs of others before my own – at least as much as an elementary school-aged child can. I longed for peace and security, but it seemed to slip through my fingers like sand. Our home life had a lot of love, but it also had a lot of pain. I didn’t understand grace and I looked to my own abilities to do the right thing to achieve peace in my family, peace in my mind and peace with God. This set up an exhausting pattern of striving in my life that I am just now beginning to recover from at 33 years old.
My brokenness and imperfection used to be a source of shame and distress to me. God has allowed me to reach the end of myself and as a result I am beginning to taste the freedom and peace that has been elusive all of my life. I have come to realize there is no suffering equal to that of being my own savior.
Even as I quoted John 14:27 to myself over and over and over again, I was missing the point entirely. I was attempting to save myself by telling myself the right things; believing the right things. It was still all about me, rather than simply stating my need for Him. The Lord is graciously showing me in my brokenness of body and mind that I will never be enough. No knowledge of the scriptures, no amount of prayers, nothing that I do will save me. It's time to let go. It's time to fall into His arms and let Him carry me. His love for me is real, and enduring, and whether I have the right words or beliefs, He will always be there.
That's what being a Savior is all about.