As a counselor, I have often wanted to personally taste the difficult experiences of others. I know that sometimes people want to talk to a person who has “been there”—who has experienced what they are struggling with. That’s why I have wanted to taste schizophrenia, quadriplegia, particular physical pain, mania, and most anything foreign to me that I have witnessed in others. Just a taste, of course.
We can stretch every human struggle—sin or suffering—to include ourselves. I understand sexual violators, not because I have violated anyone, but because I have indulged my selfish desires and it has hurt those around me. I understand the divorced because I have known rejection. There is a commonness to human misery. But still, it is a unique gift to receive help from someone who knows by their own experience.
So I was of two minds when I recently had a panic attack, along with a number of sizeable aftershocks. On one hand, it was miserable and it seemed like more than a “taste.” On the other hand, I got what I wished for, though now that I experienced a panic attack, I would like to move on and empathize with, say, the happiness and carefree styles of some children I know.
Here is what I am discovering.
- When people talk about panic attacks, I know what they mean. I don’t necessarily tell them my own experiences, but I am right with them rather than a step or two behind. My compassion is aroused. I could finish their sentences.
- I know, first hand, that there is nothing better than turning to Scripture. I was blessed to see that my instinct was to turn to Jesus and his Word. It was evidence of the Spirit in me. Good news, indeed.
- I also know this. Scripture doesn’t dislodge the episode. Recite your go-to passages? That’s good, but once the panic attack gets a head of steam, you are along for the ride. To make it more personal, I know that Jesus is certainly with me, but this reality does not work as a super-pill that lessens the assaults of life. After all, Jesus certainly was not a pain-reliever for the New Testament church. If we implicitly believe that there is a one-to-one correspondence between acts of faith and diminished panic, we will begin to wonder why God is silent and our confidence in him will be at risk as we wonder if he is faithful to our particular interpretation of his promises.
- I can also say with a little more confidence: panic attacks are opportunities to delve even deeper into the mind of God on fear, and there are ways the Spirit empowers us to battle seemingly indelible fearful images. Far from being less confident in the Spirit and Scripture, I am more so.
- I am so thankful for Jesus and that I belong to him. Since death can seem imminent in panic attacks, how do people without Jesus go through these things?
- And I am thankful that I have been brought into the experience of many friends who have had similar assaults. I am more determined to grow and ask for grace in understanding other people.
How important is it to know someone’s misery by way of our own experience? The ways of God are that sometimes we will know that misery, sometimes we will not. When we don’t know from our own experience—and we will never fully experience another’s misery—wisdom and love work just as well, if not better. Wisdom knows that every person’s story is unique, and since wisdom is built on humility it is eager to listen. Love refuses to be a mere observer, but insists on being a friend who is brought into the story and, with compassion, is affected by it.