March 27, 2014
In his short-but-mighty book, Weakness is the Way, J. I. Packer writes, “…if people who at present have no sense of weakness were more careful and restrained in the way they talk of others and to others, the world might be a less painful place.”
I underlined those words when I got a copy of that little book a number of months ago and I had no idea that my then-present state of “no sense of weakness” was about to come crashing down.
As I write this, I am in bed, recovering from an over-the-weekend bout with a virus that completely destroyed me. Up all night and struggling with fevers all day, I felt, in a word, weak. My friend Anne came to sit with me yesterday and as I struggled to be comfortable with an aching body, I winced and said into my pillow, “I just want to be done.”
I have been feeling that way a lot lately. I’m ready to be okay again. I’m ready to be healed. I’m ready to get back into normal life—whatever that means—as soon as possible.
You see, this weekend was a 48-hour manifestation of how my spirit has stumbled its way through the past six weeks. I’ll write now what I’ve been avoiding talking about for a month and a half because I’m learning that it’s necessary to be honest about weakness. 47 days ago, I had a panic attack. The kind where you lose your hope and your vision of the future and everything feels like too much. The kind where you wonder if perhaps you’ve gone mad, because nothing feels right.
It took me days to recover from the adrenaline surge that left my muscles weak and my heart exhausted. It launched me into twice-a-week counseling. But it also sent me into a place where all my worst fears would have to be faced.
I’m a controller by nature. I like to have a say in my day-to-day activities as much as possible. For a living, I edit things—words, photographs, films—because I love to have a creative vision and see it realized. And while it make my clients very happy and it gives me a sense of purpose, it also tricks me into thinking that I can edit my own life. Sure, we have the ability to make choices that are key in our development, but we truly control very little about our lives. I guess this is one of the things that we forget—and that makes us forget how great the grace of God is (and how strong the gospel really is.)
I’ll be honest: sometimes I sit in front of my counselor and I tell her, “I’m ready to be done. I’m ready to be fine. I’m ready to be finished with this process.” She smiles and nods. She knows that we’re headed somewhere better, even when I’m frustrated with my own weakness.
I told my friend Anna a few weeks ago that I understood why I was in pain. I said, “I know that I’m a sinner and I live in a sinful world and that’s why I have to figure out all of this. So that I can get better.”
She looked at me with an honest shaking of her head and said to me, “Melissa, you keep telling me about how you’re broken, but what you are forgetting is that Christ died to heal you. And you are not, first and foremost, a broken, lost sinner. You are redeemed. And it may be that you never overcome anxiety and you lose all hope, but that does not mean you are outside of the reach of the gospel. You cannot break the gospel.”
One thing that I’ve been thinking about lately is how much of my life I’ve ignored anxiety. I’ve ignored fears and insecurities and damage that I’ve encountered in the last 24 years to the point of, well, panic. I’ve fooled myself into thinking that I can control enough of my life to not actually have to deal with the true heart of my weakness: trust. The reason that I don’t trust God to come through is because I tend to think that I control the gospel. If I can be put together, the gospel will hold together. If I fall apart, the gospel must have broken.
This is a flawed way of thinking, but I think it’s something we fall into quite often. There is no glamour in weakness. There is no glory in saying, “I can’t.” And, as a dear friend said to me recently about her own struggles with anxiety and ministry, “It feels like failure.”
Perhaps that’s what I’m getting at. Perhaps that is what this hard, hard season of processing through my own fears and anxiety is about: failing. But knowing that by the grace of God, I am not first-and-foremost a failure. No—I am redeemed. I am not broken. I am not losing it. I am not a mess. I am in the “now” of the “now but not yet” and it’s terribly messy, but the gospel is not ruined by it.
People tell me to just stop being anxious. To just let go and be fine again. To steer clear of medication. To just not think about panic. But what has spoken to me the most has been the truth. It has been the friends that sit with me in my pain, not unlike Job’s friends. It has been the words of support and the sensitivity of others. J. I. Packer is right: we must be more careful.
For we are, in Christ, fragile, but we are not broken.
Melissa Zaldivar is an MATH student from California. She loves golf, theology, Jewish holidays, people falling in love, Jonathan Edwards, chocolate chip cookies, her adorable niece and telling stories. When she's not filming and photographing weddings, you can find her reading news articles, watching Parks and Recreation or playing Super Smash Bros.