• Dana L. Butler

on anxiety and other “less-than-spiritual” realities


I’m jolted awake in the middle of the night. I don’t know exactly what woke me, but I do know my heart is pounding so fiercely that for a moment I wonder if it might collide with my chest wall hard enough to make it just… quit.

Is this a panic attack?

I’ve had a few mild ones in the past but none quite this intense. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so fragile.

I lie quiet, trying to still my racing thoughts. I take deep breaths and will my heart rate back to normal. I pray silent 3- and 4-word prayers on repeat.

After a while, I’m calm enough to sleep again. But a couple hours later, it’s the same song, second verse.

The next morning I’m worn plumb out, which makes everything feel more acute. The kids’ scuffles and needs, my headaches, my to-do’s.

I’m way too easily overwhelmed. I think I’m “triggered.” Raw. Like, I’ve kind of been living in that zone the last few weeks.

Jesus works inside us in all these cyclical layers, and at the moment, he seems to be doing several layers’ worth of heart surgery all at once.

I’m intermittently flooded with memories from past abusive situations (to be clear, I’m talking emotional and spiritual abuse, not physical). I’m periodically overcome by regret, recalling countless decisions made out of fear (as opposed to following what I knew the Holy Spirit had put in my heart) while in said situations.

Years-old choices that have impacted my family. Impacted my soul.

I’m still discovering ways I lost my voice, lost the ability to listen to my gut, to take my discernment seriously. I’m realizing anew that so much of the time, the Spirit speaks through my intuition, and it’s not that I’m inerrant by any stretch of the imagination, but just that He lives inside me and, in His kindness, is perpetually redeeming my instincts.

I’m learning how to listen to His whispers again.

There were years — years — that I shoved the thoughts that made me uncomfortable, thoughts that might make others uncomfortable, thoughts I feared would rock the boat.

I’ve got to be wrong. I’m missing something. Stay quiet, Dana. They certainly know better than you do.

And all those years of ignoring my gut and shoving my intuition? They were costly. I’m realizing more and more that it will take years — and lots of gut-wrenching internal work with Jesus — to fully recover. To locate and integrate the lost pieces of my self.

{Interjection: Thanks for grace, my friends, while I once again write at a heart level without explaining external circumstances. I’m not ready to talk specifically about these pieces of my history in this space yet.}

I’m humbled these days, y’all. So, so acutely aware of my weakness. I’m laying my raw soul bare before Jesus, my husband, my close friends. I’m talking through memories. Praying through them. Sometimes weeping through them.

*****

One of the most damaging mentalities I’ve seen here and there within the evangelical church is this implied (or sometimes even spoken outright) idea that if a person is experiencing anxiety or another emotion that we tend to deem negative, they’re “not in faith.” They must be in some type of sin, not trusting Jesus enough, not correctly applying the truth of scripture to their circumstances, etc.

Basically, their spirituality isn’t up to par, and in order to really follow Jesus, in order to not be ruled by our emotions, we must reject emotions that “don’t line up with truth.”

But here’s what I’m forever learning: these emotions that we tend to think of as “negative?” They are actually just human. God made us human. With vulnerability to being hurt. With susceptibility to fear. With emotional responses to pain.

And He made us this way, with all this vulnerability, because it’s in the painful, raw, weak places that we can most uniquely, deeply, tangibly encounter His heart and experience His strength.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. –1 Corinthians 12:9

Anxiety and trauma and regret have been so close to the surface for me lately, and in years past, my instinct might’ve been to pretend they didn’t exist, because they make me feel — or appear? — less spiritual.

But I’m finding that as I acknowledge my raw state before the Father, bringing all my trauma and grief before His throne as authentic pieces of my current reality, there is healing. There’s peace. There are restoration and integration and courage, a little bit at a time.

I’m finding wholeness in Him as I quit shoving and ignoring my emotions, and bring the entirety of my right-now self into His embrace. {Not just the parts of me that feel spiritual or faith-filled or presentable.}

And most of all? There’s His presence. He is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18), and of course He’s near all the time, but there’s a uniqueness to His nearness in seasons like these, and it is profoundly sweet. It’s balm to my soul.

He is tender and kind in all of my past, all of my present, and all of my future. He works all things together for the good of those who love Him, even when we make decisions we later regret. He is faithful to continue the work He’s begun. His processes inside us are gentle, trustworthy, thorough.

He’s a God of extravagant healing and redemption. So while I’m still in process, while I still have quite a distance to go toward wholeness in all these broken places, I can sit quietly here today and declare it, and believe it to my very core:

So, so great is His faithfulness.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. -Lamentations 3:22-23

Thanks, my friends, for being with me, for bearing witness to my journey, for loving Him alongside me. I love you guys.

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