Don't Panic. Just Breathe.
Updated: Aug 30
As you all know, I’m an Enneagram Type 7. And these Types don’t experience panic or fear, right? They run fearlessly into the wind while galloping on horses. (If I rode horses that is. But you get the point. ) Lately I haven’t felt fearless though. In fact, I’ve been struggling to breathe.
The phrase #icantbreathe has been chanted over and over again since George Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020, and for good reason. His death has changed the historic landscape of my city, and I pray that in the end it will change our nation for the better. But when you find yourself in the middle of something, it’s hard to celebrate the process. After all, you have no idea how things will end up. You only know that you’re in the middle.
This is (some of) what’s kept me up at night — the middle ground.
Then on June 7th I found out that my 26-year old friend, whom I loved dearly and who taught my kids at church, tragically died.
This made absolutely no sense!!!! It brought me straight into a state of panic and grief until suddenly my struggle to breathe got real.
When my panic attack happened, I had no clue it was coming. I didn’t feel stressed or overtly sad in any way. I just felt tired…and a little out of breath. So I decided to lie down and take a nap. But as my eyes closed and I started praying for our city and for my friend’s family, I suddenly felt a LOT out of breath……..and that’s when the panic and adrenaline kicked in.
You’re dying!!!!! my mind screamed.
I tried to inhale slowly so I could course correct the episode, but as I got to the top of my inhale, my lungs just felt trapped. Like that was it. There was no more air was left. Then my throat started closing up (or so it felt) and my body started shaking…and again my brain screamed, You’re dying!!!!
I don’t know if any of you have ever experienced a panic attack before, but it’s terrifying. It’s like floating outside of your body and watching yourself suffocate. Which sort of parallels how our world is feeling right now...
Covid-19 (can’t breathe). George Floyd (can’t breathe). Grief-trauma-pain-anger-fear (can’t breathe). It all feels heavy and surreal, so it’s no wonder people are panicking! But while fear may be a motivator to TRY and breathe, it certainly doesn’t create breath. No.
Fear makes us angry.
Fear evokes bigotry and hatred.
Fear instills apathy and silence.
And friends, when we’re feeling afraid, how are we dealing with it? Are we gasping unyieldingly for our own breath, or are we reaching for the only one who IS breath?
After my panic attack subsided I was able to connect these dots — that God IS breath — yet so many of us feel he is unreachable, unknown, or completely absent. And I get it. When tragedy happens it’s easy to ask, Where were you God?!!?! But I was reminded recently of what Paul said to the Athenians in Acts 17 when he came across one of their shrines labeled, “To an Unknown God”.
He said: God can be known…but he is not found in a custom-made shrine (or in a political affiliation, ideology, the suburbs or in Super Target). He also doesn’t need us going around running his errands for him because he can take care of himself (v 24, MSG). Ah! So convicting. Stop carrying the world on your shoulders, Jonna!
Furthermore, “God gives LIFE AND BREATH to everything, and he satisfies every need…His purpose [is] for the nations to seek after [him] and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him — though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist” (v25; 27-28, NLT).
Dang this is good. So what does this mean for us today?
In short, God is saying, KNOW ME…and radically CHANGE your lives (v 30, MSG, paraphrased). If we are too consumed by our own emotions, we will miss this opportunity. We will miss the chance to partner with God in the fight for LIFE!
This is an invitation for us all to breathe and move and change. That’s literally what stopped my panic attack — taking my eyes off myself and fixing them upon God. I had to declare that HE was my source of power, love, and a sound mind and that he did NOT give me a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). THIS is what calmed me down and brought me back to peace.
So if you, too, have been struggling to breathe due to grief, worry, panic … or simply because you don’t know what action to take next in the fight for justice … seek him first. He is the supplier of life and breath, and he will open you up to what needs to be done here on earth…by knowing HIM.