The Day I Traded Peace for Panic, and How I Got it Back
BY: KELLY JOY FJESTAD
My heart was racing. I couldn’t catch my breath. What was happening? Was I having a heart attack? I’m in my thirties, and I’m a runner — certainly my heart is fine. But why can’t I breathe?
I took my phone into the closet and frantically searched Google for the signs of a heart attack. What I found made me feel better and worse all at the same time.
Thankfully, I was not having a heart attack! Unfortunately, I was having a panic attack. I had never experienced this before. I laid on the floor and focused on breathing in deep, trying to get this horrible feeling to pass.
Life was so out of control. We had just made our second big move in three years. Starting over again. New friends. New jobs. New places. I was just beginning to feel settled in our last town, and now I needed to start all over.
It might not have been so bad if we had been able to just move and not look back, but our house wasn’t selling. Every week we had to make the hour and a half drive each way to mow the lawn and check on the house. It’s hard to commit to a new city when you have to spend your free time driving back to the old one.
We had two mortgages — so, as you can imagine, money was tight. We’d had several offers on our house, but each time the buyer backed out before the closing date. We dropped the price of the house lower and lower, praying and praying for a buyer.
I thought things were starting to look up. We had a new contract on the house. We were starting to find our way around our new city. Things seemed to be going in the right direction.
But then, our realtor called. Our buyer was backing out. How could this be happening again?!? When I told my husband, he (sort of) shut down and said he couldn’t deal with it right now and asked if I could just take care of it. He wasn’t trying to dump it all on me. He was just emotionally exhausted himself. I felt alone. Deserted. Abandoned.
In that moment, I traded faith for fear, peace for panic. I threw my trust in God out the window and began to doubt He was actually going to take care of us this time.
And, that’s when the panic attacks started. I was hoping it would just be the one. I would refocus, pray and everything would be OK. But the panic attacks continued. It was as if my body had forgotten how to breathe on its own. Each breath became a chore.
I had never felt this out of control. I had to focus just to breathe. I was so frustrated! I have been in church my whole life. I know all the Bible verses about God being my refuge. I know Jesus is the Prince of Peace. I know God will comfort those who mourn and the peace of God will guard my heart and mind. However, I did not feel peaceful.
I prayed and prayed, but I felt like I was praying to closed ears. I couldn’t hear God. My prayers weren’t being answered. I didn’t feel God’s comfort or sense His presence. I felt very, very alone.
But I know God’s Word is true even when I don’t see it. When life is hard. When I don’t feel like God is good. When bad things happen. When I don’t understand. Even when my circumstances look the opposite, I know God’s Word IS true!
So, I planted my feet in the Word of God. I read the Bible every day. I listened to sermons. I went to conferences. I worshipped. I prayed and prayed and prayed. I asked people to pray for me. I did everything I knew to do.
For a long time, nothing happened. I didn’t hear God speak for about 18 (very long) months. Even after our house eventually sold, God was still silent. But I knew God IS faithful. So, I kept on waiting, crying, praying — believing God would prove Himself Faithful.
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
Holding onto the promises in Scripture can be extremely difficult. The Bible is not a magic wand. We cannot just wave a Bible verse over our situation and make everything alright. There is not a string of magic words that, if said with enough gusto, enough conviction, will turn the situation around. Sure, sometimes God moves in an instant and we see immediate answers to our prayers. But the reality is, most of the time we have to wait. Most of the time, we have to commit to prayer and only over time do we see our answers come.
I think this is why we need the peace of God to guard our hearts and our minds. God knows our minds can take a dangerous path towards doubt and unbelief. Our hearts can be broken when the answers to our prayers take longer than we expected.
Even at the darkest point, I still knew deep inside God was with me. Even when I couldn’t hear Him. Even when I didn’t sense His presence. Even when I felt alone. I knew deep inside God would not abandon me. He might step back and test my faith, but He would not leave me. His peace — beyond my understanding — was protecting me, even when I couldn’t sense it.
Slowly over time, the panic attacks slowed. I learned how to breathe through them. I found ways to deal with stress before it reached that point. I built a wall of friends around me who I can reach out to when things get difficult.
The biggest thing I realized is that I cannot control everything. I can only control my response. I could not control that our house wasn’t selling. There was nothing I could do to make it happen. However, I could choose to have faith God would be true to His word and provide for all my needs. I can’t control the people around me, but I can control how I respond to people. I can choose to be grateful even in difficult situations. When I fight for control in uncontrollable situations, the panic starts to creep back in. Instead, I have learned to fight for peace. To let go and let God.
Peace does not come from ideal circumstances; instead, true peace comes from God alone. If we let our circumstances determine our peace, we will be tossed around like the waves of the sea. But, if we can learn to receive our peace directly from God, regardless of the circumstances happening around us, He will be faithful — and, we will truly live IN PEACE.
“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation. The Lord be with you all.” 2 Thessalonians 3:16
Author’s Note: If you are struggling with anxiety and panic attacks, seek help! Find a counselor, a pastor, a doctor, someone you trust and talk to them. There is no shame in needing help. Take medication if you need it. Talk to a professional. Trust God uses pastors, doctors, counselors, and friends to help us through the darkest points.
Kelly is a wife and mother of five children living in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She is an ordained minister and author of PAUSED: Protecting Your Faith When God Says "Wait" and Pursuit: The Cross. For more info visit: kellyjoy.org