The following essay was written for my first assignment for the “Who You Are in Christ” class I’m taking this semester. As you can see, this class didn’t exactly get off to a gentle start…
This afternoon I had a panic attack.
The episode was the mashed-up fruit of several ongoing stresses that had been triggered throughout the day. While the majority of my cards were already laying face-up, exposed, on the table, the primary instigator was work, as it often is. As the saying goes, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
It wasn’t stress related to my day job; in fact, God has been noticeably multiplying the harvest in that area. It wasn’t the amount of schoolwork I had to catch up on; I am extremely passionate about school and genuinely enjoy the labor, even when it’s momentarily overwhelming. It wasn’t even the overall state of my to-do list, which might be considered manageable this week. Rather, it was specifically my “other job”—my freelance work—that decided to play the villain today.
My freelance job is in the book industry; I do formatting and proofreading for indie authors. While books are my primary area of interest and expertise, and I usually enjoy working on them in all capacities, lately my job has brought me little but grief.
If you asked me why it was stressful, I could draw up a lengthy list of possible aggressors. Lately, I’ve had a string of difficult, ungrateful clients making unreasonable demands. I consistently do extra unpaid work in an attempt to please and pacify, causing new projects to pile up. I have so much on the to-do list that I work nearly every spare moment trying to keep up. I lose sleep and have to do homework after midnight. And tangled all up in this are feelings of inadequacy—the guilt my clients (and my own subconscious) dump on me when I do not respond to emails fast enough and they are not happy with the finished product—and financial insecurity—the knowledge, however grounded in numbers, that if I work less I may not be able to eat or pay for school.
There are a variety of demonized lies embedded in that last sentence, I realize—many of which I have already been wrestling out with God. But it is a multifaceted process to work towards stepping away from a job to embrace other callings while simultaneously enacting Kingdom financial principles. So even as I’ve made important steps over the past several weeks, the Devil heaps resistance in the form of more work, projects that refuse to die, and incessant clients. Even as I prioritized my day to put people and school first, a particularly demanding client left several voicemails and emails trying to reach me. Finding that unsuccessful, the Devil decided to revert to his favorite old trick: anxiety.
Before coming to this church, I lived with severe suicidal depression. I lived in a constant fog of anxiety and had panic attacks frequently. However, due to the rescuing mercy of people from this church and the powerful worship and services that first connected me to the power of God, I have been completely liberated from anxiety. I have been over three years “sober,” never once having a significant bout of depression or panic attack—until the past few weeks.
And with all my old symptoms resurging, the fog as thick as I remembered, along came the condemning thoughts: You’re better than this. You’re supposed to be free. You shouldn’t struggle with this anymore. You should be able to command this thing to leave. If you can have another panic attack, then you must not have been truly made free.
And it was in this state of mind that I came home to finish the reading and write this paper—past midnight, of course. And it’s in this broken, confused, sleep-deprived context that I was able to reread Chapter 2 of the textbook and truly understand the author, whereas a few days before I hadn’t really been able to hear him.
In Chapter 2 of the textbook, the author begins the crucial process of unraveling our true identity in Christ by hitting a two-fold point: Because our identity is rooted in birth, not actions, our birth determines our identity even when our actions are still out of alignment. Consequently, we are not defined by what we do, including our career and personal performance, even if our credentials may be very good in their own right. To identify ourselves with our actions in any way is a broken identity that leaves the door wide open for the lies of Satan.
To fully expand on the many ways this straightforward but profound truth has and will continue to redefine my life would take a much longer paper, just as it will take much more meditation and further reading before I truly understand it. But for the time being, I can take hold of several obvious applications:
• Because I am not defined by my career, I do not need to base my worth as an author—much less a ministry professional or a daughter of Christ—in the fact that I work in the industry.
• Furthermore, any failures in that industry—such as dissatisfied clients—in no way affect my identity or discredit my qualifications to obtain the future God has for me.
• Because of this, any backlash I receive—whether in the form of unhappy clients, confused relatives, or fits of anxiety—I encounter while undergoing the process of deposing work-based merit as my false god is not mine to keep. This panic attack is not part of my identity or a punishment I deserve; it is just that—an outside attack.
• Finally, and most importantly, I am not defined by the external manifestations of my demonized past life. My identity is not “I was a depressed and anxious individual; I am just reformed, so I don’t struggle with that anymore.” My identity is “Daughter of Christ who has been redeemed and transformed, and fear has no authority over me.” This attack is not “me.” It is not part of my identity. It is not my personal sin coming back to bite me. I didn’t “slip up” and fall back into “the old me”—because that old me no longer exists to go back to. It is an attack, and it needs to be dealt with, but in no way will it “stick” and define any part of my identity.
I am not depressed. I am not anxious. I do not struggle with panic attacks and stress. My dead self, who was a slave to fear, is no longer part of my resumé. That part of me was wiped from history, old clay that was smashed up and formed into something completely new so that no part of the old vessel is recognizable.
I am no longer a slave to fear, and it’s for that very reason that I can trust—no, command—that this attack shall not stand.