I am an internal processor. It is an extreme rarity that my mind is quiet. In fact, for much of my life, I can recall having a constant stream of internal dialogue.
The rare moments when my mind is quiet are a gift from God. Genuinely. I firmly believe that it is one of the main ways that God communicates with me, by gifting me silence and capturing my attention.
And this Holy silence was gifted to me just this morning.
Part of my current Bible study time is engaging with The Bible Project App. Which, sidenote, talk about another Holy gift that we have been given. What Tim Mackie, Jon Collins and the Bible Project team have put together is utterly amazing and I cannot recommend it enough.
I was perusing some of the content on the app and saw that Tim Mackie had his own stand-alone podcast, “Exploring My Strange Bible,” that he created a few years ago. I decided to check it out. This led to me an episode called “Panic-Attack-Gospel of Matthew Part 33.”
Cue the internal silence. And this time I also got goosebumps and chills.
I’ve talked about my experience with anxiety in my writings before for Intersections KC. A short recap is that I’ve been prone to more anxious tendencies most of my life. But, after the birth of my son almost a year and a half ago, my anxiety reached a pinnacle that was scary, consuming, and a minute-by-minute battle.
So, to read “panic attack” within a title of a podcast that I know is about the Bible and out of a book in the Bible that I know heavily revolves around Jesus immediately drew me in. And God gave me a clear sign that I needed to listen to it by gifting me internal silence.
The scripture Tim Mackie talks about in this podcast is Matthew 26:31-45. It’s when Jesus is in Gethsemane right before he is betrayed by Judas. I’d read this scripture before, but I think my mind was already progressing to the rest of the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and I was never fully present within these verses.
Specifically, verses 37-38 in the NIV say:
“He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’”
These same verses in The Message say:
‘Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he plunged into an agonizing sorrow. Then he said, ‘This sorrow is crushing my life out. Stay here and keep vigil with me.’”
Sorrow. Troubled. Agonizing sorrow. This sorrow is crushing my life out.
Or, as Tim Mackie says, Jesus has a panic attack.
Jesus. The Son of God, King of Kings, Savior, equal parts God and human. He had a panic attack.
It doesn’t end with those two verses though, it keeps going. In verse 39 from the NIV it says:
“Going a little farther, He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’”
Tim Mackie notes that Jesus falling to his face is because His body had given out due to fear and grief. And He stays in this position, praying, for an hour. Again, Jesus’ panic attack leads Him to have His face to the ground for an hour.
Tim Mackie calls this night Jesus’ dark night of the soul. I don’t know that there is a more accurate description of what mental illness can feel like, a dark night of the soul.
At the peak of my anxiety, I never necessarily felt abandoned by Jesus. In my journey with my faith, I felt an instant connection with Jesus. Out of the Trinity, He is the one that I’ve been able to connect to the most. I think that my positive relationship with silence from God helped me still feel His presence amidst my anxiety. But I know many people who do not feel silence from Jesus as a gift, rather they feel it as abandonment and rejection.
Thinking back on the worst moments with my anxiety, when Jesus was silent, I still felt Him there. I pictured it as Him sitting beside me, patting my back and waiting out the anxiety with me.
I now see the silence differently. Jesus is still there beside me, but He’s silent because He’s weeping with me.
Weeping as only someone does when they wholly understand the pain of what you are going through. And the only reason they understand that depth is because they’ve been through it, too. And Jesus had His own panic attack. So, of course, He understands every bit of my experience with my anxiety.
I often find myself with awe-struck reverence for the relational, compassionate, empathetic God that we have. But to have a God that can emotionally empathize, that can genuinely say “I know how you feel” to our experiences of heightened mental health is a beauty that words cannot do justice to.
My sweet Jesus, thank you for being our dark night companion.
Kylie Larson, MA, LPC