What can we learn from Jesus' anxiety attack?
Jesus had an anxiety attack.
Many people miss this image of Jesus, and many try to avoid it. There are lots of images of Jesus that roll through our mind when we consider his life:
He is a faithful servant of God.
He is a powerful controller of nature and disease.
He is a wise rabbi who teaches along the mountainside.
He is a triumphant king who marches into Jerusalem.
But here in a moment you are going to come face-to-face with a broken and terrified Jesus. Honestly, it’s sad that many people do not know about this image of Jesus, for many of us find ourselves just as broken and terrified as Jesus was here. In fact, I know that there are some of you who are reading this right now who are where Jesus was in these moments.
You feel alone. You feel hopeless. You feel scared. You feel desperate. You feel sick. You feel tired.
There is a dark agony that claws the inside of your heart, gut, and mind. Sometimes it wins, completely swallowing you in anxiety and worry. While other times it takes every ounce of your strength to suppress it just so you can feel “normal.” Whatever that means.
Jesus’ anxiety attack happened while he was praying in a garden.
Jesus’ story was coming to its climax. He had been teaching for the past couple years about this moment, the moment he would be arrested, and trialed, and convicted, and tortured, and murdered. But his heart and emotions were catching up with his brain now. He was going to die.
Thick olive trees covered him from the light of the moon, their thick, twisted roots casting chaotic shadows across his hunkered body. The air was thick with tension, but only Jesus could feel it. Jesus was in the darkest moment of his life.
He doesn’t know what he needs, so he surrounded himself with his friends. Matthew’s account of this moment says he brought Peter, John, and James close and begin to express is “sorrow and trouble.” But, as many of us know, explaining what we are going through seems next to impossible.
In fact, Jesus doesn’t even know what to say, so he mumbles out a prayer that he had taught his disciples. You know it, it’s often referred to as the Lord’s Prayer. “Your will be done,” Jesus cries out as he remains on his knees in prayer. And then he reaches his breaking point.
“And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and sweat became like drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Luke 22:44
It’s a sad image, isn’t it? And statistics show that there are some of you here right now who have been here, maybe even recently. You feel so weak that you can’t stand on your own feet. You feel so shaken you can’t help but mumble out simple prayers. You feel so lost you can’t even think of what to say.
Consider the numbers:
Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.
Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S.—9.8 million, or 4.0%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.
Only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year. Among adults with a serious mental illness, 62.9% received mental health services in the past year.
Just over half (50.6%) of children with a mental health condition aged 8-15 received mental health services in the previous year.
It’s an epidemic and we are living in the middle of this unraveling world.
To me, the unbelievable power of this story regarding Jesus is that God joins us in our darkest moments. Through Jesus, God joins us when our world is unraveling. Jesus doesn’t just pat us on the back saying, “yes, yes you will be fine.”
Jesus is on his knees beside you, embracing you in his arms as he tells you he understands exactly how feel. There is something absolutely shuttering when you consider that God, through Jesus, has experienced fear, doubt, anxiety, and brokenness. He has trembled in terror; he has cried out in pain. God does not deny the suffering we are experiencing, nor does he promise that the suffering will go away. Instead, he wraps an empathetic arms around us as we sob and reminds us that the story is not yet over.
Any attempt to restore a person’s inner strength in such a chaotic world has to first succeed in identifying some future goal. Nietzsche’s words, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how,” was brought on full display in Jesus’ life and death. Jesus stood up from his sobering state, knowing now what his why was. Seeing the torches split through the darkness of the garden, he walked forward and confronted the mass of armed soldiers ready to arrest him.
“Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘the one I kiss is the man; arrest him.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi,” and kissed him. Jesus replied, ‘Do what you came for, friend.’”
The average delay in treatment for mental health services is 10 years, and only 40% of individuals diagnosed with mental illness access treatment. Luckily, we live in a time where there are many resources and people willing to help. If you believe you are dealing with any form of mental illness, please reach out to someone. Here are some readily available resources: