Ever since I can remember, I grew up attending church faithfully. I loved spending quality time with my church friends and I thoroughly enjoyed playing my violin for and during all the services. But despite all of this, for most of my younger years, I never really stopped to think about the most important part of church fellowship—the spiritual aspect. Sure, it was great that I had friends in the church I could always hang out with. It was also a positive thing that I enjoyed being involved in playing music for church services and events. But there was something missing.
As I was beginning to enter my teenage years, I started to think about where I stood spiritually. It also so happened that around this same time in my life, I experienced a panic attack—something that I had never experienced before. The feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, and fear that one goes through during the awful experience of a panic attack is something one cannot truly explain unless personally experienced. This was the first time I had experienced all three of these emotions at once and I felt confused and fearful about what had just happened to me. I did not understand where it came from or what had triggered it. It seemed to have happened out of the blue. Perplexed and not seeming to understand what had happened, I turned to the Bible for comfort. This was one of the first experiences I had that really made me look to God for comfort and help. As it says in, “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” After that terrible night, I began to read Hebrews chapter , and I would meditate on the verses from this chapter every night before going to sleep, which was something I found comfort in doing. Ultimately, my spiritual life was getting on track. I even expressed interest in taking baptismal studies. It seemed like I was on the right path, but Satan was about to try to take me off this path.
Not long after this period of time, someone cunningly found his way into our family and succeeded in winning our friendship and trust. Once managing to become integrated into our family, before we knew what was happening, he was dramatically veering me off the narrow road I had just started on. The friendship with this individual would gradually but greatly affect my spirituality in every possible way. I would go from being the young innocent teenager who was on the way to finding his way to God to someone who was totally disinterested in anything to do with God, church, or spiritual things. At this point in my life I was unrecognizable. Seeing me in this seemingly lost state, my family and friends were desperate to save me from complete moral and spiritual destruction. During this period of my life, I found a happiness that was very superficial and shallow. This friend I had was wealthy; I had a great job with him, and he promised to teach me how to be successful in life so that all my dreams could be realized. But even with all this, I still experienced anxiety, even more so than I had before. As time progressed, I began to see that this friend was someone who had ulterior motives and intentions far from noble. The once kind, pleasant, and generous spirit became controlling, obsessive, and narcissistic. All these things only fueled my anxiety to the point that I started to become extremely depressed. Even though I had all the signs that this friendship was ruining me mentally and spiritually, I couldn’t seem to wake up. It was as if I was under a spell. This person had used material things as a means to entrap me, while making me feel that I couldn’t afford to lose his friendship. I was being brainwashed, manipulated, influenced, and mentally controlled by him, yet I didn’t notice it at all. More than this, I failed to realize that Jesus is the only true source of happiness and that no material things can give the happiness or mental healing that only He can offer.
It was very hard for my family during this time. I had pushed God away, as well as them. I had deaf ears for everything they would try to tell me. But the prayers my friends and family were offering up for me were not in vain. Ever so slowly, I began to realize and accept that my mental condition was being affected by this toxic and unhealthy friendship. But even so, I struggled with giving up this life. I felt I had so much to lose; my job, money, and opportunities. But our wonderful God is a God of miracles. He intervened in my life just before it was too late, before everything could have potentially been lost forever and there could have been no turning back. My family decided to visit our relatives in Chile. They bought my ticket without me knowing in a desperate attempt to pull me away from this “friend.” I was not entirely happy when I came to know about my ticket being bought, as I didn’t want to leave everything for several months—but I begrudgingly accepted and decided to travel with them. This would be the trip that would decide it all, the trip that would give me a chance, the time, and the space to sit back and reflect. During my time there in Chile, by a miracle from God I finally, slowly, eventually came to my senses. I saw how my spirituality and relationship with God had nearly become nonexistent. I saw how I had changed for the worst. I saw the terrible impact this person had had on my mental health. I saw what a negative influence he had been in all areas of my life.
After fighting with the decision for many days, I finally decided that the best thing would be to end the friendship once and for all. That was one of the best decisions I made in my entire life. I was finally free to start rebuilding my life with God and my family. This seemed to be the happy ending to an unsettling story, but my story does not end here. God knew He had a lot of work to do in my life after I had been so negatively influenced and changed.
After the ordeal with this ex-friend of mine was over, I seemed to have peace. My anxiety levels diminished, I was not depressed anymore, and it all seemed it would be uphill from there. I decided to relocate from the west coast where I was living to the east coast to have a fresh page to start on. As I seemed to start getting my life back together by beginning baptismal studies—something that I had planned to do before the toxic friendship had destroyed those plans—the anxiety slowly crept back in. It came back stronger than ever before. Concentrating when doing homework, when listening to sermons, and even when playing the violin—which was something I loved to do—seemed to be terribly clouded and difficult to do. It was around this time when I had an epiphany. Who was I? what did I believe in? who was God to me? Why does God allow me to suffer as a result of this anxiety? Does He actually love me? Did He even notice the anguish I would feel whenever my mind was cloudy, when I could not think straight because of the waves of anxiety? All I could ask was why God, why me? I felt so lost. I did not know who I was or who I was meant to be. This belief crisis seemed to only fuel the anxious thoughts. It was a vicious cycle, as everything in my life seemed to be at that moment. I began to feel desperate. These mental battles started to affect how I acted with loved ones and with friends. I began to resent God, to distrust Him and His love for me. I could not see Him caring for me while allowing me to suffer this way.
I hit rock bottom. With no one who could make it go away, feeling no hope in sight, with no one truly being able to understand what I was going through, and with no words to fully describe my suffering, depression turned to thoughts of hurting myself and ultimately to thoughts of suicide. At this lowest point in my life where all seemed so hopeless and lost, God saved me once again. He saved me from doing anything that would have made me lose, not just this life, but more importantly, eternal life forever. After many sleepless nights of crying in anguish to Jesus, I had no more tears left to cry, no more energy left to spend. I cried out to the Lord one final time. I said: “Lord, I don’t know what I have been doing wrong, or what I have done to deserve this, but deep inside I know You love me. I know everything happens for a reason and I know You are trying to show me something. If I have not been giving everything to You, if I have been idolizing things in my life and putting them above You, please forgive me and help me to put You first.” As I finished this prayer, it all became clear to me. All this time for so many years I had been cherishing certain things in my life. These were things that I was putting between me and God, without even realizing it. Things that I had allowed to absorb all my attention. There were so many things God needed to teach me and show me and the only way that I would finally recognize the things I was idolizing, fix my shallow spiritual life, and give my life to Him, was if something drastic happened in my life so that I could recognize my need for Him in everything. And this is exactly what happened.
I learned another important lesson. I realized that sometimes the very things we may consider to be a burden or an agonizing struggle can actually be a blessing in disguise. I learned that sometimes God allows certain things to happen in our lives to help us keep our focus on the true happiness we will have later, when one day we will be in heaven with Jesus face to face. We all have our crosses to carry and those crosses are to help mold us, prepare us, and keep our focus on Jesus who once bore His cross for us in order that we would have the opportunity to be able to live eternally with Him. I have learned that the fight with anxiety is a cross I’ve had to carry because maybe if I never experienced it, I wouldn’t have sought God for help and wouldn’t be where I am today, writing this article.
Dear reader, if you are reading this and have not given your life completely to God, it is not too late! If you are going through struggles, heartaches—whatever it may be—give them to Jesus, and give Him your heart too. He loves you and will help you. Many times He uses the greatest trials to get our attention and save us. It does not matter whether or not you were born and raised in the church; you can have a beautiful experience with Him this very moment. We all can have an amazing experience with Him—it’s just up to us to let it happen.
“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort, who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (, ).