A couple of weeks ago I awoke in an absolute panic. It was around 1:00 in the morning. I was having a terrifying dream. I shot up from the bed gasping frantically for air and shaking in fright from the alarming image that had burned its impression on my mind. This was not by any means the first time that I had encountered anxiety in my sleep. In fact, over the past ten plus years of my life, I’ve learned that I am far more vulnerable to panic attacks in my sleep than I am to them while I’m awake. Generally I’ve found that they occur shortly after I drift off to rest when I am very stressed or anxious and my mind has been racing. As a rule, they almost always develop within the first 30-45 minutes of my sleep. It’s never been easy handling those experiences, but I’ve learned to gather myself and return to rest a bit more easily over the years as I’ve gained a better understanding of what’s actually taking place. It’s alarming each and every time, there’s no do about that, but it is something that’s manageable. This particular night however, I encountered something a bit different. And the experience that I had shook me beyond a panic attack. Panic attacks are a by-product of fear manipulating the mind. But this was real.
I can’t recall any part of the dream that I was having at the time I awoke other than the last image that I confronted in my sleep. It was the image of the devil. But it wasn’t the devil in the form of the demon-like creature that we generally imagine as the representation of evil. It was human. If I were able to sketch the image for you, one might simply identify the drawing as a dark and twisted, soulless human being. They wouldn’t know from the sketch that it was the devil. But I knew…I knew immediately. And “knowing” left me with the most disturbing feeling that I’ve ever had in my life. The devil was peering at me with an arrogance that is indescribable. It was as if he was inviting me to the darkness, but somehow he knew he already had me in his grips. He looked at me as though I didn’t have a choice in the manner, as if to say “you’re coming with me”. It was absolutely terrifying.
That’s when I woke from my sleep. I sat up in bed shaking with the feeling that the evil that I had encountered was not by any means gone. And as I looked up to the right corner of the bedroom, I sensed that it was there. Initially I thought I saw a dark mass in that area of the room, but then as I fully awakened and gathered myself it seemed to disappear. Perhaps I was still dreaming upon my initial observation, but it still felt as though the devil himself was menacingly threatening me from nearby.
I was lost in fear. The feelings that came over me were not consistent with those that I’ve grown accustomed to dealing with during moments of anxiety and panic. These were far more aggressive. If I were to describe the feeling that I had as a pain in my body, I would describe it as deep and throbbing….the type of aching that you feel in your bones. It made me sick. And I thought for quite some time that I would need to run to bathroom to throw up. But somehow physically I was able to hold it together. Mentally however, I was a mess. Why was this happening? I clutched the cross pendant on my chest and began to pray. And later that morning, when I finally was able to drift off to sleep, I did so with my Bible lying on my chest. I could not close my eyes without knowing that I had the Lord’s Word and a visual representation of His protection nearby.
The next day I was met with some of the most intense anxiety that I had encountered in months. And the really interesting part about this is that I had just come off of four straight days where I had proactively worked to confront my limitations by taking action against them. I was running again after having taken months off to deal with a great deal of stress associated with some major life transitions. And I was feeling great about it. I was regaining my wind and beginning to feel healthy again, and I knew that I could carry my momentum forward. Until that is, the devil intervened and attempted to steer me off course.
The anxiety created by my face to face encounter with evil on that frightful night did eventually subside. But admittedly, for two weeks now I have not been myself. I’ve felt hopeless, and more than anything I’ve felt trapped and consumed by the mistakes of my past. I’ve seen limitations instead of opportunities. I’ve seen walls instead of freedom. And I haven’t been able to engage the promising vision that I’ve had for my future. It’s not to say that I’ve forgotten about my dreams altogether, but rather that what in the past seemed very plausible has recently has felt like a one in a million miracle shot. And that’s caused me a lot of internal despair. It’s made me feel as though I’ll never truly see my way back into the light. It’s made me feel like quitting on life.
But that’s all a bunch of bull. Those negative feelings were thoughtfully positioned by the devil. In fact, what I described is EXACTLY what he wants us to feel. If we feel trapped, hopeless, and lost in despair we will remain under his thumb forever. And we will become servants to the darkness. We’ll never find our way back into the light by accepting evil’s prognosis for our future. Things will only get worse.
The good news is that we have a choice. We don’t need to buy the limiting, destructive program being offered to us. In my dream I recall very clearly that while the devil was glaring at me arrogantly, he was still standing at a distance from me. He seemed to embody a confidence that he somehow had me hooked and that I would simply turn and follow him. But he himself DID NOT have the power to force me to go with him. That was going to ultimately be my choice. And that is the way that things unfold in this life we’re given. We are presented with temptation after temptation. We are confronted by feelings of weakness, lack, and defeat. And sometimes we are impacted by troubling circumstances beyond our control. But ultimately we hold the final say in how those things will affect us moving forward. And if we step into the light, we can overcome anything that the evil one throws at us.
So how is that we do this? How do we step out of the darkness and into the light? My feeling is that we accomplish this by letting go. This is not an easy process by any means. It takes tremendous courage. Essentially we must bring to light everything in us that has been hidden by the darkness. All of us carry limitations, weaknesses, and fears that hold us back. But my contention is that when we speak openly about the things that burden us we disarm them as anchors that would otherwise hold us captive. I’ve experienced this in my own life. When I began writing two and a half years ago, I was suffering tremendously with very limiting anxiety. And some of the things that I disclosed were very hard for me to bring to the light. But as I shared them with my followers, I found that I was able to make my peace with each item that I addressed and soon after, healing and restoration began to unfold in those areas of my life. And it happened in ways that I could have never previously imagined.
“It happened in ways that I could have never previously imagined”; that’s a powerful statement worth repeating. There is something amazing that happens when we let go of our burdens, step into the light, and let the man upstairs begin directing our lives. When we trust in Him, our weaknesses tend to fade. Our problems tend to find resolution. Our limitations transition into our greatest strengths. And our past simply becomes part of a beautiful story of resurrection that would have never unfolded had it not been for the adversities that we faced that caused us to seek a higher power and a new way of living.
Imagine standing at the edge of an ocean pier with that twisted, soulless image of a human being (the devil himself) standing next to you. He has a gun aimed at your head. You are trembling with fear. You feel trapped. You feel that you’ve lost control of your life. Your dreams have faded. You’re one step from drowning in the abyss behind you, and evil has its intentions pointed down the barrel of a loaded gun at your forehead. But then a glimmer of light pierces through the clouds from the sky above and catches your eye. And you’re reminded of who’s really in control. You look at the devil and proceed to grasp the gun that he has pointed at you, tearing it from his hands. You open the chamber, and one by one you toss every bullet into the ocean and hand the weapon back to him. The sun begins to shine and confidently you walk off the pier and back onto solid ground. And your new life begins.
Every bullet from that chamber was a limitation, a weakness, or a fear that had previously held you captive. And as you seized the weapon from the devil and discarded each and every one of those bullets into the ocean, you let go of the past, you let go of the darkness, and you stepped into the light and onto a boundless path blazed specifically for you by your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. You, my friend are now free, so long as you continue to choose the light. Let go, and live again; live new in faith.
I smile as I write the final words of this entry because I’m thankful to have been given wisdom through recent conversations with God in prayer and through some very influential lessons at my church to understand the direction that I need to take on my own journey. I smile because I am eager to find my freedom and live new in faith as well. I smile because I am determined to bring the parts of me that remain in the darkness into the light very soon. I smile because in doing so I know that I will disarm the devil. And I smile because I know that soon my new journey will begin.
Thank you, Jesus for inviting me to join you in the light. I love you. Amen.