Updated: Dec 10, 2019
I couldn't breathe. My chest felt tight. I needed air. I needed space. I needed to get out of there right away. I was surrounded by people rushing here and there. I had made a list but forgot to bring it with me. So many people to buy for. So many decisions of what each one might like. It was all too much for me. My heart was racing and my breath shallow. I spotted the nearest door and almost ran to it.
As the cool, crisp air hit my face I immediately felt better. My breathing deepened as I slowly inhaled the cold winter air. My heart rate slowed as I made my way to my car. Once there, the tears began streaming. I couldn’t stop crying. I sat there, alone in my car, sobbing for several minutes. Then I cried out, almost yelled:
“Lord! It’s not supposed to be this way! This is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. What’s wrong with me? Why can I not find the joy in Christmas anymore?!”
This was the scene last Christmas. I wanted so much to give my family the Christmas they deserved. I wanted to give each one of them the perfect gift. But every time I set out to shop I ended up in near panic.
This behavior was so uncharacteristic of me. I LOVE Christmas and gift-giving is my favorite part! Why was I so panicked every single time I went into a store?
In my frustration, I turned to the Word of God. I landed on the story of Elijah. This great prophet of God ran for his life in near panic after slaying 400 prophets of Baal.
Jezebel swore to kill Elijah in retaliation. And this prophet, who had just witnessed a mighty act of God, tucked tail and ran. He panicked, just like I did every time even the thought of Christmas shopping entered my mind. I wanted to run and hide under the covers of my bed until December 26!
Elijah wanted to die, I wanted to hide.
Through this story I found a strategy for coping with my own panic attacks.
1) Pray the right kind of prayer.
Elijah prayed but his prayer wasn’t very rational.
“I have had enough, Lord. Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.” 1 Kings 19:4b
Like Elijah, my prayer hadn’t been very rational. I cried out, “What’s wrong with me?’ when I should have asked God to calm me, to guide me, and enable me to find His joy in the season. The focus of both Elijah’s prayer and mine was on self. We were having a pity-party. I needed a new prayer, one that focused on God’s power to overcome my panic.
Father God, You are all-powerful. Your grace is sufficient for all my needs. Your power is shown in my weakness. When panic strikes turn my attention back to You. Spirit Helper, open my eyes, ears, and heart to see, hear, and know You are with me in my panic. Allow me to feel Your presence in those moments I am unable to breathe. May I breathe in Jesus and breathe out my jitters. May I breathe in the Prince of Peace and breathe out my panic. Enable me to find Your joy in Christmas again. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Praying God-centered prayers instead of “woe is me” prayers calms our hearts and places our focus on God’s strength rather than our weakness. The very first words in the Lord’s prayer are, “Our Father”. The entire prayer focuses on God and His power to provide. Paul told the church at Philippi:
“And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from His glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19
Three things stand out to me about God in this verse:
First, He is the same God who provided for Paul’s needs. He is the same God who brought the Israelites out of Egypt. He is the same God who raised Jesus from death. The writer of Hebrews tells us:
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8
His power hasn’t diminished. He is the same God.
Second, He provides all our needs. Paul didn’t say He will provide only our physical needs, or only our spiritual needs, or only our emotional needs. God provides ALL our needs. He created us with the ability to think and feel so He is not going to leave us without provision for health in our minds and emotions. Matthew 9:36 says of Jesus:
“When He saw the crowds He had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
God is a God of compassion. He wants our hearts and minds to be calmly focused on Him even in the middle of chaos. He will provide the means for us to overcome when panic threatens to overtake us.
And finally, God has given us great riches in Christ Jesus. Christ is the gift of Christmas. He is the gift that truly keeps giving and in His giving, we have power to crush confusion, disarm dread, and hinder hysteria. Jesus told His disciples:
“I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” Luke 10:19
God gave us Jesus. Jesus gave us His Spirit. With His Spirit comes His power and authority. But we must appropriate that power and authority in our moments of panic by praying the right kind of prayer.
As I learned to pray God-centered prayers, my panic was replaced with peace. The chaos in our soul turns to contentment as we turn to God.
2) Take the right kind of rest.
Elijah fell asleep. He was exhausted from the traumatic events. Fear breeds fatigue. When our body is physically exhausted our ability to think clearly diminishes and many times panic ensues. Rest is the body's mechanism for coping with stress. However, we must also seek rest for our soul. Jesus told us to take His yoke and find our rest in Him. The Message paraphrases Matthew11:29-30:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Getaway with Me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you, Keep company with Me and you’ll learn how to live freely and lightly.”
The phrase that caught my attention in this verse is: “I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.” As I pondered that thought I realized my panic over gift buying was ill-fitting. I placed pressure on myself to provide the perfect Christmas, to buy the perfect gifts. Just as wearing a pair of ill-fitting jeans causes discomfort, so the pressure of perfection brings undue stress.
Once I began taking the right kind of rest by praying the right kind of prayers, my attention turned from seeking perfection to seeking the Perfect One. Spending time with Jesus always calms our soul, giving us composure and confidence instead of turbulence and timidity.
3) Find the right kind of nourishment.
God sent an angel with food for Elijah; not once, but twice. The Bible says the meals consisted of baked bread and a jar of water. These meals strengthened Elijah for 40 days and 40 nights.
As I pondered this story the Lord brought to mind the ritual of communion. We take the bread as a symbol of Jesus’ body and we drink the juice as a symbol of His blood. The whole reason we have Christmas is so we can have Easter!
My panic came because I was focused on what the world says Christmas should be. I needed to refocus on what God says Christmas is. At that moment I set out to find forty Scriptures that speak of Jesus; references of Him as the Bread of Life, Living Water, Prince of Peace, Lamb of God. Any verse that would keep my focus on the Christ of Christmas instead of the commercialism.
I wrote these verses on index cards. Each day I randomly chose a card from the pile and carried it with me throughout the day. Any time I began to feel panicked I read the verse as a breath prayer. This practice settled my mind and focused my heart on the true gift of Christmas.
I plan to pull those cards out again this Christmas season so I can have peace over panic. If you need calm over chaos during this hectic time of year, why not find verses that speak to you and focus on them as you head out to all the festivities and shops! When we pray the right kind of prayers, we take the right kind of rest, which leads us to the right kind of nourishment.
Praying we find the right kind of balance this Christmas season.
Until next time keep gathering manna, growing deeper, and gaining intimacy!
May God bless and keep you,
(You can read the full account of Elijah’s trip from powerful prophet to panicked pessimist in 1 Kings 18-19)
**This article first appeared in part at kassfogle.com under the title, 3 Ways to overcome Panic This Holiday Season.