I have panic attacks. Lots of performers have panic attacks. More than we know about, certainly. And you wouldn't know it to look at any of us on stage. It doesn't work like that.
When I was in college they happened before performances, usually behind closed doors. I remember the first semester I ever spent in an Opera Workshop class. After several visits to the doctor it was discovered that nothing was wrong with me, really, but my heart was most definitely palpitating . . . and often. I had to start taking a very low dose of a beta blocker because my heart was skipping beats so much. A constant, unfortunate state of panic.
I remember having a panic attack in front of my younger sister for the first time. It was probably the first panic attack I'd actually had in front of anybody other than my husband. We were on a road trip to visit prospective graduate schools for her and we'd stopped to walk across the mile high swinging bridge on Grandfather Mountain in NC. We'd been there as children.
So I'd walked that bridge before. But for some reason that day the wind struck me as terrifying and seeing my sister bounce across it, I felt my throat close up. I froze halfway across the bridge and had to turn back. I walked a short way down the concrete stairs toward the parking lot and stood there, clutching the railing as I watched my sister walk out on the rocks with all the other tourists. Old people and tiny children were out there. But not me.
I've had others for no reason.
Nothing . . . has somehow sent me down to the floor, hyperventilating and needing a paper bag.
Like so many other people, I've spent time feeling badly about this. And I've written about it here before - the sense of social guilt a person can get from being afraid of fear or afraid of bridges or crowds or loneliness.
And as a Christian person sometimes I've had the sense that others are waiting on me to say, "because I have faith in God, I believe that this will go away and not be a part of my life anymore."
But I remember something my saving brother said about the world . . . and how there would be trouble in it. We don't have any guarantee of a life free of discomfort. That's never offered to us as a direct result of our faith. What we do have is a guarantee of the abiding presence of the Lord God - the one who saves, the one who loves us, the one whose understanding is complete (and boy do we ever need it - our understanding is definitely not complete).
When I was about 12 I went to a youth conference. And there were two funky looking Northern dudes on stage singing "God of Grace and God of Glory" like a speed metal band . . . only they were playing acoustic instruments. And it was the same "God of Grace and God of Glory" with the same words and the same harmony you'd hear in an old school traditional worship service. AND I LOVED IT.
Then they played some original stuff and one of their songs had my name in it. It had a line that said, "I wanna laugh like Sarah" - of course they were referring to the biblical Sarah who laughed when she learned that she'd bear a child in her extreme old age. Take a listen. Michael explains it really nicely.
When I heard this song I thought, "I do want to laugh like Sarah. I do want to be that broken person that goes along living the normal life and then becomes something new because God is willing to sit with me a while under the shade of a tree."
This past weekend we left our 4 month old at home with his grand parents and we hit the road on a little musical pilgrimage to see those two funky musicians during their last year of touring as a band. And as I sat in the audience listening to some of my favorite songs, my heart was racing - I'd been having palpitations all day long. Ever since leaving our child and our house and our current familiar? My heart had been skipping double time. All day. All night. All through the concert.
So I tried to practice one of the techniques recommended for those who suffer with panic attacks. I observed the panic - "Ok. I'm panicking. My heart is racing. My fingers and feet are tingling because I'm hyperventilating a little bit. But I'm here. And I'm safe. And this trip is a good thing. And the experience of panicking like this is not actually hurting me. I will not die from this. Worst case scenario - I'll be a little lightheaded when we stand up after the show."
You're not supposed to try to stop it from happening - a panic attack. That often makes it worse.
What if we also stopped trying to prove to each other that we're the coin finders or the good brothers . . . what if we did what the song said and told God, "If I never accomplish any of the big things, just do whatever is most useful with me. You decide. I trust you. I don't need to be important or perfect. I just want to be with you."
Oh, look. It's that bridge again. That mile high, swinging bridge I'm so afraid of.
But, laughing at myself, I put one foot slowly in front of the other until I'm standing right in the middle of it . . . smiling from ear to ear and thinking, "When the Finder does find the coin, He sees that it's dusty and rusty . . . so He shines it up a bit and says, 'Here now. Come stay with me. I've been looking for you, small as you are. And I'm glad to see you.'"
The act of preparing and performing teaches me a certain lesson over and over. It teaches me that even though I experience discomfort (in fact, I'm pretty much guaranteed discomfort), I am also able to experience great joy. Maybe even in the same breath.
After many years of trying to be the person who looks faithful I'm beginning to understand that honesty helps me and everybody else much more than the look of a pretty life.
Friends, I might visit that bridge again someday and find myself unable to cross it. Sometimes we overcome things and then they catch up to us again. Hey - don't let that sense of being a "church person" lie to you. None of those great preachers and teachers in the Bible were perfect. None of those Proverb and Psalm writers had squeaky clean lives.
I want to laugh like Sarah because she struggled with anger, jealousy, insecurity, and worry just like me - and yet she spoke honestly with God and found it in herself to laugh at the news.
If you're looking for a promise of perfection, you've come to the wrong place.
The only thing we're serving up here is a heaping pile of truth. I haven't yet heard a truth that was pretty. And I haven't met any people who are totally good. They're not totally bad, either. They're good and bad. There's only one complete Goodness in the world - and we are so fortunate, friends, because this absolute Good News wants to be All Present for every moment of our mixed up lives.
Go out there and don't feel like you have to lie about it - having faith doesn't mean being perfect or even being made totally well. It's more about being there, knowing that the Finder is going to find you no matter what.
Hang in there.