When I was in one of the most heart-wrenching seasons, I continually recited the 911 prayer of HELP! “She who dwells in the secret place of the most high will remain stable.”
God is not a genie in a bible, so it’s not like you pray or say a scripture and you’re fixed. What changes you is trusting what God says in the word, because he’s the word himself. It’s resting in what he promises.
Having an anxiety attack and repeating Psalm 91:1 over and over reminded me to take deep breaths and say, quietly but aloud, “Lord, you will bring me through. I feel afraid but you are here with me, and you will take every step with me to get out of the gas station bathroom. You walk with me back into the van to continue the trip with my family to Minneapolis.”
I came through that season of nine months in 2009 with God’s grace and the hope he provided with family, friends, and my faith. Many times, I didn't think or want to go forward.
God also worked through medication so I could eat, sleep, and be stabilized mentally. Who can tell God how he should work in our lives? I’ve tried but the only way to have a peace that passes understanding, even in the most unstable and chaotic of times, is to know and trust God is always on the move, with a plan of redemption in place despite the most overwhelming and dreadful feelings, His love never fails. Being transparent with our lives to God, ourselves, and others brings freedom to live compassionately, giving us the peace and joy that we all long for.
Doing one simple act of kindness, such as writing a personal note of encouragement and putting it in the mail for someone, has literally changed a whole day for me, when all I really had planned was to lament with angry tears, a cocktail (or two), and frustration due to crazy/difficult circumstances. I make homemade cards out of construction paper with a million stickers on them and add words of encouragement with colorful markers in fun shapes. It’s another unique and “signature” thing about me (our son Joey tells me I have a “magical gift” in card making).
I can express compassion on a whole new level now. That’s because in 2009 I had a very scary and difficult season of anxiety attacks and depression. The hole was dark and deep. I came through by the love of God and support of others who reached out to offer me hope when simply getting out of bed was difficult. I came through by the power of medication, too. This also was a season where I realized I wasn’t a failure with my faith in Christ. I went on medication to stabilize, and God said, “It is good.” If I would have needed blood pressure meds, God would have also said, “It is good.” And I wouldn’t have thought, for a second, that my faith was lacking. Yet I might begin to think, "If I'm on 'mental meds,' shouldn't my strong faith be the antidote?"
Comedian and speaker Chonda Pierce was helpful when I needed to take some medication and swallow the pill. I remember watching a clip of her being interviewed on The 700 Club (You can google “No Laughing Matter”), and how openly she shared her need to take prescription medication for severe depression. She said, “We limit God when we decide there’s only one way. He can work good in our lives to bring stability or restoration. After much wrestling in my mind with taking medication for my depression, I took my prescription bottle and taped a piece of paper on it that read, ‘God loves you, Chonda. Take your medicine.’”
Chonda’s sharing her struggle helped me in mine. I am better. My faith is stronger from my experience with anxiety attacks and depression. I can reach into the lives of others and help them because God allowed that difficult season in my life. Yet, it still surprises me how many others are still so afraid of the stigma that comes with a Christian believer taking prescription medication for their mental or emotional issues. Again, the point being, no one judges a diabetic for needing insulin.
God used the time of panic attacks and depression to teach and bless me on many different levels because he’s good and he loves me. It makes Romans 5:3–4 in the Bible somewhat comprehensible: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Going through suffering while persevering means we are learning to remain under God, his love, and h is power and direction to see us through. It also means we have hope that either our circumstances will get better or our attitude about them will get better, or both. The work of perseverance in our lives helps us to come alongside others who are in these kinds of trails with love and allows us to offer hope. Simply sit with someone and just “be” by giving them grace and not giving them another Bible verse.
“Here’s a verse. Feel better?”
It’s the person who’s been in and out of the hole who knows what is most helpful and needed — “You will pass through this season; God’s not surprised you’re in it and you’re not alone.” When you’re hurting, you don’t need a person delivering, “You should do this.” What you need is the person who can say, “I’ve been there, and I understand.
"2 Corinthians 1:4 is truth: “There is God who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the same comfort we received.” As far as being a “Christian” goes, those matured and with depth are the ones who have failed and have learned to live with their failures and walk with hope. I’ll always be a work in progress, but I try to release comparing my pain against another’s and instead offer a heart of compassion to the someone who needs to hear, “You are deeply loved right where you’re at. There’s hope.”
I have the first two verses memorized from the Amplified Classic version and the promise of those words have kept me stable in so many difficult places.
Psalm 91:1-2: He who dwells in the secret place of the most high shall remain stable and fixed under the shadow of the almighty, whose power no foe can withstand. I will say of the lord, he is my refuge and my fortress, my god; on him lean and rely, and in him I confidently trust!"
You too can trust in his unfailing love, which never leave you no matter how wretched you feel. God forward in hope and know you’re never alone.
This column is a regular feature of the Detroit Lakes Tribune's monthly Faith page. Debbie Griffith is a Detroit Lakes-born speaker, radio personality and writer who now resides in International Falls, Minn.