Last September, I was diagnosed with panic disorder and major depressive disorder. Would you believe me if I told you it was an answered prayer?
I regularly find myself in seasons of loneliness. I have never been in a relationship (for multiple reasons- maybe for another post). Sometimes I am content in my waiting. Sometimes my heart painfully aches for that person I’ve yet to meet.
When I arrived back at Flagler for my second year in August 2016, I was in the latter state. And I decided to deal with it through prayer. More specifically, I decided to pray a novena, a Catholic tradition in which one prays the rosary for 54 days. For the first 27 days, you petition God for something. I was asking not necessarily for God to bring me to my husband but to prepare us both for marriage in our time apart (in hopes it would speed up the waiting process). For the last 27 days, you pray in thanksgiving for God’s answer to your petition, whatever the answer was.
On the 27th day of my novena, I had my first major panic attack, sitting in my US History class.
I spent the following week at my parents’ house, barely moving from the couch for fear another attack would come.
I saw two different doctors nearly every day that week. And while they quickly agreed on the diagnoses, they struggled to identify the catalyst for my sudden attacks. One sifted through my childhood memories, searching for trauma. The other pried into my present life at Flagler, seeking recent issues.
The loneliness of singlehood. The hopelessness of potential answers to my novena. The pressure of daily social media posts from friends who were engaged, married, or pregnant.
That would do for a reason, they decided.
“Thank God you have been single!” a doctor exclaimed.
Thank God for the catalyst of my anxiety and the reason for my depression?
Uh… no thanks.
He explained: in such a time of desperation, if I were to find myself in a relationship (no matter the partner), it would undoubtedly be a dependency relationship and wholly unhealthy.
Thank you, God, for answering my prayers, for making me the wife you wish me to me: strong and independent.
I was not angry with God for answering my prayers for marriage preparation in this uncomfortable and embarrassing way. I was overwhelmed with wonder. I had never witnessed His mysterious ways so directly nor received such a clear answer to any petition. Indeed, I was not alone. During the following 27 days, my prayers of thanksgiving were sincere despite their irony.
I share this story for several reasons. Firstly, I long to stand in solidarity with you. You are not alone in your loneliness. You are not alone in your anxiety, in your depression, in your hopelessness.
Secondly, I wish to highlight the characteristics of prayer. I have found that the more intentional my petitioning and thanksgiving are, the clearer and more transformative is God’s answer. He will meet you where you are, basically. I am more careful about the words I say to God after this experience. Before you ask for something, be ready for the granting of the gift. My friend once prayed for humility and broke her nose.
Lastly, I want to encourage you to pray, even with the knowledge it may flip your life upside down. I encourage you to find a kind of prayer that works for your relationship with Jesus. Do you like to meditate on others’ words by reciting prayers like the Our Father or Hail Mary? Do you like to write your prayers down in a journal or perform them in song? Where and when do you like to pray? Aloud or in silence? With others or alone? Not just “do you like it” but does it work? How do you get the best “reception” to God, so to speak?
Acknowledge that prayer isn’t just a word you put in a hashtag after a tragedy; it should be a real tool (and a primary tool) in your relationship with Jesus. Recognize the power of God to answer your prayers. Consider the best method of dialogue for you and Jesus and then do it wholeheartedly.