Wilderness

Three and a half years ago, I began having panic attacks.  And by panic attacks, I don’t mean brief moments of anxiety, I mean hours of debilitating, paralyzing fear.  After a few hours it would subside, leaving me spent and overcome with despair for an hour or two, and the cycle would begin again.

The strange thing was that there was no good "reason" this was happening to me.  I had a happy marriage, healthy children, a lovely home–by everyone else’s standards, my life was charmed.  I had always been the girl with her act together–others came to me when things got rocky.  How could I possibly be the one going off the edge?

But I was.  Dramatically and suddenly, I was falling off the edge.   Things became so dark I could no longer care for my children–my mother had to come and help us manage.  My husband was a rock, but even his unwavering support wasn’t enough to rescue me.  I spent my days huddled in a ball of anguish, feeling the waves of despair and panic wash over me, again and again.  I wanted, with all my heart, to die, and I thought about it constantly.  And to anyone who would listen, I would say, "This shouldn’t be happening to meThere’s no reason for me to feel like this," as though if I said it often enough, it would all go away.

You see, I knew, as a Christian, that hard times would come.  I was prepared for that.  But these were supposed to be hard times that happened outside of me.  When the trials came, I thought  I should be able to retreat into my heart, my mind, the "safe place" where God offered comfort.  But this time, my heart and my mind were the war zones.  To retreat into them was only to be lost further. 

In the middle of this, a light switched on for me during a conversation with my brother.  I shared all this with him, wondering aloud where God was, and why I was left to wallow in my own despair.  And my brother said something that stopped me in my tracks:  "Sis, He’s the God of the wilderness too."

Yes.  The God of the wilderness.  The God who brought his people, the Israelites, out of slavery and allowed them to wander aimlessly for 40 years in the most barren land imagineable.  Not because He was cruel, or mistaken, or inept–but because there are lessons that can only be learned in the wilderness. 

I stayed up late that night reading about the Israelites and their dark places.  The story that jumped out at me most (you can read the whole passage here in Exodus 14) was the story of their recent escape from Egypt.  The Egyptians were hot on the heels of the Israelites–their doom seemed sure.  But Moses confidently reminded them: 

"Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still."  (v. 13-14)

So, it turned out, I was experiencing God’s presence, though not in the warm and fuzzy way I expected.  It was more like a helicopter rescue.  He was the guy on the ladder, hanging on desperately to me while the waters churned below.  If He let go, it meant sure death.  But if He would just hang on to me, then maybe, maybe I could make it out of this terrible place.

And He did hang on.  As I quit fighting my time in the wilderness and instead began to look around, He gradually led me to other side.  Through a variety of means including, yes, medication, He helped me climb out of that dark pit.  And now on the other side, I see so many reasons why I had to walk through that wilderness.  In my "charmed life", would I have ever seen the things I saw in that terrible place?  Would I have had to trust God for my very next breath, my very ability to survive?  Of couse not. 

The wilderness will come again, that is sure.  Maybe not in the form of depression and panic attacks, but it will come again.  We live in a fallen world where heartbreak and tragedy are unavoidable.  But the dark places don’t seem so scary to me now, and the wilderness doesn’t seem so wild.  I’ve been there.  I learned the lay of the land.  And I saw Who was there.

37 thoughts on “Wilderness

  1. mimi2six says:

    I know how very hard this was for you to write for all to see, but you can be sure you have touched some very needy hearts who will be incredibly encouraged that you understand where they are, and you have told them about the hope of rescue and the incredible reality of God’s presence. God will bless you for sharing. I learned much through your wilderness, too. I had to give you to my Lord, knowing that He loved you even more than I. My faith grew during that time. You’ve shown a lot of courage and compassion in sharing your hardest story.

  2. Kristen says:

    I found your blog through cirques des mamans, which I just joined a few days ago. This was a good post and a wonderful reminder to be faithful to God even in the hard times. I’ve had some hard times myself recently where I am not sure I understand the reasons, and this was a good source of inspiration!

  3. another mom says:

    With tears in my eyes I’ve just read your really beautiful post. With your mother, I’ve been through the wilderness with a child and also a husband facing cancer surgery, and have learned, as I wouldn’t have any other way, just how much God was in the wilderness with me. Imagine The Almighty fighting the battle for us when we can no longer stand. I was the middle-aged woman with a perfectly happy, peaceful life ahead of me. I had much to learn about dependance upon my Heavenly Father. Awesome thoughts and I thank you for your post.

  4. Heth says:

    Wonderful post Shannon, thank you for sharing about this. I love how nothing in your circumstances changed, but God changed the way you viewed Him inspite of your circumstances. He is Awesome.

  5. Sunny says:

    Thank you for sharing that. As someone who has been through severe PostPartum depression and anxiety, I feel that not enough women share their experiences – no one had shared their stories with me, and I’d thought I was alone.
    Thank you for opening up to us, and for reminding us that God is there even when we feel completely alone.
    Hugs.

  6. GiBee says:

    Shannon — you are inspiring. Thank you for sharing this difficult time in your life.
    I love the words of Babbie Mason’s song “Trust His Heart” — it got me through a lot of low points… here’s one verse and the chorus:
    ———————–
    All things work for the good though sometimes we can’t see how they could
    struggles that break our hearts in two sometimes blind us to the truth. Our Father knows what’s best for us. His ways are not our own so when your pathway grows dim and you just can’t see him, remember He’s still on the throne.
    God is too wise to be mistaken. God is too good to be unkind. So when you don’t understand, when don’t see his plan, when you can’t trace his hand, Trust His Heart.
    ———————–
    “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:10-12

  7. Lauren says:

    Shannon,
    Thank you for this post. So many women seem to be going through similiar situations and feeling completely alone. I know I did for 6 years of trudging through my wilderness. When someone like you, who seems to your readers to have to all together, opens up like this, it means soooooo much.

  8. Tina says:

    Shannon,
    From the bottom of my heart, thank you for sharing this.
    I too went through such a time of judging myself for a lack of outward reasons for my inward war and thought I was the only such pathetic person, especially Christian.
    God indeed is also the God of wilderness.

  9. mopsy says:

    Thanks for your honesty. I love what Heth said (no wonder she’s a finalist for best commentor) about how your circumstances didn’t change, but God changed how you saw your situation and yourself.
    Wise brother.

  10. Rachell says:

    How absolutely beautiful this post was. It brought tears to my eyes. It also brought so many of my feelings back from my infertility trial. During that there were many times I felt alone and abandoned by God. So many times I questioned why me or why I had to go through this and why He wouldn’t answer my prayers. But after awhile I learned He was there in the wilderness too, just not in the way I expected. I learned He heard and answered my prayers, just not in the way I expected. I learned to rely on Him in a new way and have a new relationship. You said it in this post so much better than I ever could have. Thank you for that.

  11. Queen Beth says:

    God is truly the God of the Wilderness. I have often had a very close, Godly woman say to me, “It’s time for you to be still in Him.” His Word says “Be still and know, that I am God.” I have often found comfort in knowing that God alone is my rest.
    You know, now, Shannon, what I suffered.(As per our conversation today.) I love that you posted this. It gives hope to so many!

  12. peach says:

    Shannon, oh my . . . I am at a loss for words, but just for a second. Thank you seems so incredibly hollow, but I am more than grateful to you for sharing your story. I too, have found time in the wilderness. Our stories are eerily similar. Your words have inspired me, and I am so proud of you for being so vulnerable. Many will benefit from your open and willing heart to share.

  13. Jenna says:

    Thank you so much for sharing.
    “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, the floods will not consume you. Do not fear, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine.”

  14. momrn2 says:

    My dear blogging friend, What a beautiful post! I don’t know how easy it was for you to be so vulnerable, but if it blesses anyone even half as much as it did me… WOW!! I am going to post a portion of a devotional that spoke to my heart not so long ago about the wilderness. I will link back to this post as you have so much wisdom and truth to bring to this topic… the wilderness. Thanks doesn’t even express my gratefulness to you for sharing this very personal part of you.

  15. Kathryn, The Daring One says:

    We’ve talked about this before. This post makes me cry. I know I have learned amazing things through my own similar experiences. They are life altering, soul-altering experiences, so hard you can barely finger grip to hang on. These ere the things that make us. Thank you for this post.

  16. Shalee says:

    You have just quoted my verse that is getting me through the year. Exodus 14 struck me up side the head like a 2 x 4, especially the ending – “The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still.”
    I know in my heart that the Lord can do anything. But too often it is the be still part that gives me a problem. There always seems too much to do and not enough time to do it all. But that is not of God.
    I guess I am learning as you are too. My favorite part of being a Christian? Finding that there are others to whom we can draw strength!
    Bravo, Shannon… God has wonders for you still.

  17. kate says:

    What an encouragement this was to me. I have a trip through the wilderness coming up soon. It may last for years – it may not. And I am trying not to let it pull me down. Thanks for this uplifting inspiring testimony. 🙂

  18. Rach says:

    Oh Shannon, what a blessing this post is to me today. I have tears in my eyes. You have just summed up how I have felt for a long time. I am bawling. Thank you for this. It is so comforting to know I’m not alone.
    Rachel

  19. Cara Fletcher says:

    This is something really starnge when such a thing happens to a person who has everything he needs:happy family,good work,friends but nowadays it has become common-such people to have panic attacks or suffer from depression and sometimes it’s really hard to overcome them.

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