Why is this Happening to Me?

Dear Matthew,

Well, here’s the letter I promised. I think you’ll see some similarities in our journeys. 

We’ve been in France for a while now, and things are going okay. It was a huge adjustment, going from being on staff at a large church to being a total nobody in a foreign country. If I thought I was humble before, I was delusional. It’s funny how we can see ourselves one way in one context, and then when the tables are turned, we discover that we are not who we thought we were. In some ways, I wish I could go back to thinking I was someone important, and in other ways, I’m learning to embrace my new life of anonymity. 

Or at least I thought I was learning.

The truth is, the past few months I’ve started having panic attacks. I’m waking up in the middle of the night with my heart racing, barely able to breathe. I immediately recognize that I am in no danger, and can quickly calm myself down, but the question remains, “Why is this happening?” 

I’ve always sort of prided myself in being fearless. I’ve always refused to let fear rule my life. I even do things that sort of scare me in order to make sure that I am not giving in to fear. I water ski, I downhill ski, we even moved across the globe with teenage sons. The fact that I’m being attacked by panic makes me feel like I am out of control. As if fear has said to me, “I’m in charge here, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

At first it was just happening once or twice a week, but eventually, I was waking up three to four times a night in cold sweat. Then it started happening during the day, so at David’s urging, I finally sought some help. I called a counselor, and she is helping me work through the issues. It seems I’m just not as brave as I’d like to think.

And what am I afraid of? Irrelevance. I’m afraid of not mattering. I’m afraid of not being enough. I’m afraid that in the end, I won’t have made a difference. And as I enter my forties, I’m afraid I’m running out of time to do what I was put on this earth to do. I’m afraid of failing at life. 

My kids are leaving the nest, our ministry is growing, and many of my dreams are being realized. It should be enough, but it isn’t. And so each night my psyche takes me captive and holds a stick-up, demanding more.

But what if I don’t have any more to give. What if I’ve peaked? What if this is as good as it’s ever going to get? Can that be enough?

Oh that word, how it haunts me. Enough. As a life-long glutton, the concept of enough eludes me. I don’t know how to be satisfied. This is what I need to learn. This is the antidote to the panic, the answer to my deepest fear. Because deep down, it’s a fear of being deprived that is driving me. I thought I was driven by a love for God, by a hope for humanity, and by a passion to fight for mercy and justice. It turns out I’m not that redeemed just yet. 

Oh, but I want to be. I want to be free from this need to prove myself, this drive to make something of myself. I want to beat the fear—not so I can stand proud and pump my fists, but so that at last I can stoop low and serve in genuine humility. 

I clearly have a long way to go.

Thanks for hearing me out, friend. You know me well, how do you think I should navigate this? Is there something I’m missing? If you have any advice, I’m open!