Did you know that 5 to 7% of the world’s population are severely affected by an anxiety disorder that stems from a fear of being in closed or small spaces with no way of escape? Many others may suffer from occasional bouts of claustrophobia and are surprised when they experience a fear of restriction or suffocation. Their palms and body sweat, their hearts begin to race and their lungs feel as though they need air … now! Why am I even talking about this? And where’s the connection to reading a book? Glad you asked because I’m about to share a weird experience.
The other evening I was reading a book by John Ortberg called “the me I want to be.” In it, Ortberg was describing his friend Danny who had embarked on a spelunking adventure. Although thrill-seeking exploits that border on dangerous were not foreign to him, he did not enter the cave alone. He had employed the expertise of an experienced guide. Ortberg described Danny’s journey explicitly.
“The man guiding took him deep underground, then said he would lead Danny through a passageway into a spectacular chamber. The passageway was small enough that Danny had to stoop at first. Then as it grew still smaller, he had to get on his hands and knees. Eventually the only way to go forward was to lay on his back and push his body forward with this feet. Then the ceiling was so low that when he inhaled he could not move at all! He had to stop, inhale, and exhale, and only then was his chest low enough to allow him to move. By this point it was physically impossible to back out. If the passageway had gotten any smaller they would have lain there and died in that cave. … He was terrified. He tried fighting his fear, but he kept picturing his dead body moldering in the cave.”
Without realizing it, I was with Danny in the cave. In fact as I was reading, I began struggling for air. In my mind, I was in that cave and everything was closing in. It was a weird experience, but good writing and so was Ortberg’s main point. As Danny finally told the guide he felt he couldn’t make it, the guide told him to stop listening to the lies in his head. He told him to close his eyes, listen to his voice and follow his instructions. “Focus on my voice.”
When Danny did so, it freed him from panic and fear. Instead of listening to what appeared to be true, i.e. he was going to die, there was no way out, etc., Danny heard the voice of one who knew the truth and would lead him out. It worked, and Danny finally enjoyed seeing the spectacular chamber and a safe return home.
Do you have lies running through your head? I often do. “Who am I to do this? How can I accomplish that? I’ve wasted my time and now it’s too late …” Can you add some of your own? When these (and others) start shouting in my head, I find that spending time in the Bible can free me from the panic mode and set me back on track. As I hear God leading me through His word and apply it to my life, it is the same as focusing on His voice. He is the way, the truth and the life. I can’t go wrong with that.