There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.—1 John 4:18
“God, I want to die. But if You don’t want me to die yet, then please, please help me live.”
This was a prayer I uttered when I was fourteen years old. I had developed an agoraphobic panic that I couldn’t control, and was at the same time going in and out of the hospital because of a hemorrhage in my brain. For a teenager who had been used to living a normal life of school and crushes and detective novels, I was indeed having a very difficult time.
I was diagnosed with what the doctors call an Arterio-Venous Malformation or an AVM. An AVM occurs in 1% of the human population and is a congenital tangle of blood vessels. This tangle sets the stage for the bursting of a vein in the brain or heart. Unlike an ordinary aneurysm, an AVM occurs at any age and is not the result of cholesterol buildup or plaque in the blood vessels. An AVM is often described as a ticking time bomb, and most people don’t know they have it until the AVM bursts.
My AVM happened to burst right on top of my optic system, and right along the path of my limbic system, which is the seat of emotions in the brain. When it burst, I could barely lift my head. I had the most intense headache—as if an anvil fell on the right side of my skull. My eyesight grew so bad that my vision looked like shattered glass.
After a month, the blurriness of my vision subsided till I realized that I had lost ½ of my visual field—from the middle of my nose to the whole of my left side. Then came a whole slew of hospital procedures which partially ended when gamma radiation was used to alter the DNA of my AVM.
More than the physical side of my AVM, I was in utter despair when it came to my psychological frame of mind. Although I slowly recuperated and found myself back in school, I was afraid of entering places like the mall with its crowd of people. I was afraid of eating out. I was afraid of the movies. I was afraid that I’d lose my ability to breathe. I would panic. Sweat. Grow cold. Turn flatulent. Shake. Cover my mouth just so I could breathe. When my fear got so bad, I would run to the bathroom to vomit. I was a fearful wreck.
In my mind was a tangle of thoughts, barbed and painful, whispering that I would be this way for the rest of my life. For four straight years, I struggled with my agoraphobic fears, finding respite for a brief two years. Then out of the blue, I was sucked back into the fears again for another 2-3 years. During this period of struggle, I begged God to take my fears away.
However, in the midst of this all, God was becoming so real to me. I clung to a verse in the Bible which said,
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)
Whenever a panic attack came, I’d cry out to God and say the verse over and over. In whatever way I could possibly manage, I tried to focus on Jesus and speak Scripture over my circumstances.
Also, I had to take baby steps to make my faith real. I barely had any boldness in me, but with the little faith that I had, I forced myself to go out and eat out when I felt brave enough. I remember opening the gate of my house one night, trying to imagine how it felt like to leave the house without fear. I walked along the length of my street alone and sad. I looked up at the vast sky, thinking of how small I was. Did God really care about me–His most pitiful, fearful creature?
Pitiful, fearful creature. That was my identity of myself. Did God think the same way of me?
One afternoon, at a small group session where I shared my fears with fellow Christians, God spoke to my heart. While I wept in prayer, He said these words as only a loving Father could: “Janina, you are a child after my own heart. I will end this now.”
God made me realize that He had an identity for me. I was His child. He was my Father, and He was far stronger than any of my fears. And what was His heart? His heart was brave. His heart was strong. His heart was peaceful. His heart was love.
Fear must flee when PERFECT LOVE enters the picture.
God is LOVE. Jesus, the express image of Daddy God is LOVE personified. When He speaks, the storm around us is stilled. When He speaks, the chains holding us captive are broken. In Him, we receive freedom and joy.
Ever since that afternoon, I have never had an agoraphobic panic attack. It’s been 10 years since God has set me free. Christ has become my boldness and strength. Nowadays, I can say that I am the opposite of pitiful and fearful. I am someone who loves eating out. I enjoy the movies. I like exploring new places. I go on mission trips both locally and abroad. Physically, I still deal with headaches. I am also still partially blind. I’ve walked straight into poles and walls. I’ve even given a certain bus driver the scare of his life when I walked into the path of his bus! Just the same, when I think about the Lord and how He delivered me from fear, I cannot help but praise Him. In Him I truly live, and move , and have my being. In Him, I can roar with boldness and with a zest for life.
If anyone struggles with fear, there is one very strong antidote: go to Jesus. Hear from Him. Rest your head on His chest and listen to His heart. He is perfect love. And Perfect Love drives out fear.
Writer’s Bio: Janina Rivera is someone who is alive because of grace. Most of the work she does involves her brain and her eyes—the two parts of her body where Christ must truly be her fullness.