Lessons from My Battle with PTSD
By Jonathan C. Brentner
I know a great many believers, like me, have struggled with issues related to anxiety either in the past or are doing so now. My battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was long, much longer than necessary because of my slowness in learning how to combat the anxieties and wounds from my past.
My panic attacks greatly surprised me. They did not fit with anything I had ever learned or experienced. I did not understand how they could submerge me into depths of fear with my prayers doing little, if anything to relieve my heightened anxiety. I felt helpless, especially at first.
I will not go into the circumstances that led to my PTSD as I did previously in My Battle with PTSD: The Rugged Path to Healing.
What follows are simply lessons I gleaned along my path to healing from my PTSD, which I pray the Lord will use to help others in their struggles. Please know I have no training in these things and am certainly no expert. My desire is not to provide steps, but helpful truths.
It’s All-Out War
I understood early on that I had an enemy with whom I was at war. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober-minded, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” We not only have an enemy, he seeks to destroy us and is totally determined to do so. It’s all-out war!
If Satan is not attacking you in an area related to fear or anger or depression, he may be doing so in other areas related to addictions that you just cannot shake or with legalism that keeps you bound in fear of God’s judgment without peace. In the verse quoted above, the apostle assures us that Satan is looking for any chink in our armor whereby he can disrupt our lives, or worse.
In John 10:10 Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” In his book Waking the Dead, John Eldredge wrote these words on this verse, “There is something set against us. We are at war.”
Like it or not, we are at war with an enemy who will attack us in the areas of our greatest vulnerability. Count on it. You are at war with an enemy seeking to destroy you whether you realize it or not.
You Must Fight
Because we have such an unwavering adversary, we must fight. We have no other choice if we would escape his disruptions to our well-being or remain free from them. We must fight for our sake as well as that of those closest to us.
John Eldredge also wrote this about John 10:10, “There is a thief. He comes to steal and kill and destroy. In other words, yes, the offer is life, but you’re going to have to fight for it because there’s an Enemy in your life with a different agenda.”
Please know that I am not discounting the roles that medications and godly Gospel-based counselors might play in your recovery. What I am saying is that you have an enemy that you must fight him in order to experience the abundant life Jesus offers and desires for you.
At this point you might be thinking it does not feel like I am at war with the devil. But beware; Satan often succeeds by attacking us without our awareness of it. He introduces thoughts into our minds that are not only not our own, but are opposed to what Scripture says about us as God’s dear children. It’s so easy to believe the thoughts the devil puts in us come from us or represent reality, but they do not!
There’s a paradox in all this. While we must fight, we do so in the strength of the Lord. We are strongest when we admit both our weakness to the Lord and our dependence on Him.
Discern the Source of Your Thoughts
A key aspect of the war for me is thus determining what thoughts were mine versus those of my enemy. You will not hear an audible voice, but the devil will introduce half-truths and outright lies into your thinking process designed to stir up fear or anger in you. Count on it!
Do not think this only applies to immature believers. All believers experience this to some degree and with practice, we learn to reject the thoughts Satan plants in our minds. Just the awareness of this tactic provides a great start in identifying how he attack us.
In 2 Corinthians 10:5 Paul wrote, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Bringing all our thoughts into alignment with Jesus, with what He reveals to us through Scripture also helps us filter the thoughts that do not belong to us or do not represent reality.
The apostle adds to this instruction in Philippians 4:8, a crucial verse we so often overlook in our battles.
Fill Your Minds With Scripture
Because Satan attacks through our thought life, we must continually fill our minds with God’s Word. As a place to start, I recommend reading Ephesians 1:3-14 over and over with the understanding that every word is true of all those in Christ. As a child of God, nothing you do, feel, or say can change this reality about your identity in Christ.
Daily fill your minds with a steady inflow of Scripture along with much time in prayer where you not only tell the Lord of your needs, but spend much time praising Him and thanking Him for everything you can think of. Use praise and worship music to help you express your praise to the Lord.
Let God’s Word Control You, Not Your Emotions
God created us with emotions; they are an important part of how He made us. They tell us when something is not right and warn us of danger. They help us grieve losses in our lives as well as express our joy.
In the midst of our battles with afflictions related to fear and anger, however, they can become quite detrimental to us. I am not saying that we just forget our fears and plunge forward, but they recognize they may not represent reality. In my battle with PTSD, I felt the Lord telling me that I placed far too much emphasis on my feelings; I gave them too much importance.
Psychologists tell us that fears often do not have a timestamp. In other words, we may feel anxiety stemming from an event that happened years ago.
Is that biblical? I believe so. The apostle Paul instructs us to deal with our anger before the sun goes down so we do not the devil an “opportunity” (Eph. 4:26-27). Failure to deal with our anger gives our enemy a place to operate in our lives. When we repeat this sinful pattern over the course of months and even years, it enables the devil to greatly disrupt our lives as well as those closes to us.
In Matthew 6, Jesus addressed at length the matter of our anxiousness also showing the importance of dealing with it in a timely manner. Like anger, unresolved fears set a trap us at a later time, one Satan is more than happy to use against us. This proved to be the case with my PTSD.
The Absolute Necessity of a Two-World Perspective
If you desire the joy and peace that Jesus offers you in this life, i.e. the abundant life, you must adopt a two-world perspective. By that, I mean we learn to value eternal realities above temporal ones. In other words, we must give a greater worth to eternal outcomes than to our earthly desires and dreams.
As a young pastor, I placed a much higher value on my success than on my hopes for eternity. Though I taught about the rapture, Jesus’ second coming, the millennium, and eternal state, I treasured what I could accomplish here below far above my eternal inheritance. As a result, when the storms raged against me, I sank under the stormy waves.
It was when I realized that my ultimate hope was after this life that the Lord set me on a path toward healing. Without my renewed eternal outlook on life, the calamities that came to me might have totally destroyed me.
In Romans 8:18 Paul says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Picture your life as a balance scale. On one side you see all the disappointments, failures, suffering, and afflictions of this life. On the other side, you see the glories ahead of you in eternity. Despite the tremendous amount of suffering Paul experienced in his life, he saw his scale weighted down to the extreme with glory ahead for him in heaven. We need this same perspective. This outlook is absolutely essential in the battle for our lives, no exceptions.
Bring Fellow Believers into the Fight
During the height of my war with PTSD, I met with three different men for lunch on a regular basis. While they shared in my grief at the time, their greatest contribution was that of joining the fight and boldly speaking truth in my life.
If you are experiencing depression, panic attacks, or crippling anxiety, you need those around you who recognize the nature of the battle with Satan and are willing to fight alongside you.
Yes, if you are experiencing these things you need those close to use who realize that the solution is much more than simply telling us not to be angry, depressed, or fearful. There is no magic wand to wave to make these intense feeling vanish in a flash.
However, you require so much more than sympathizers. You need fellow believers who will confront the lies the devil is telling you, bring God’s truth into your life, call you to fight the war for your life, and encourage you during ups and downs of your battles with the devil.
Start a Journal with Bold Words of Truth
I found it exceedingly helpful to maintain a journal during the years I struggled with PTSD. In it, I boldly wrote God’s truth as opposed to the lies the devil was throwing at me in my thinking and through my enemies.
One lie Satan will toss your way is that God does not love you; He does not care about your situation, relationships, or problems. Respond to this by writing down verses and biblical truths that affirm God’s love and tender care for you. Remind yourself constantly that Jesus loves you so much that He suffered an agonizing and brutal death on the cross so that you might have eternal life.
As you write out your thoughts and feelings, your journal becomes a tool to help you discern between the lies of the devil and God’s truth.
Be Patient and Don’t Surrender to the Enemy
As with any war, you will win some battles and lose other ones. Be patient; most often the war against whatever is afflicting you will not be won in a day or week or even a year in some cases. For me, it took several years for the Lord to root out all the deep wounds from my past that came to the surface as anxieties and panic attacks during my extended bout with PTSD.
Although it may take time, do not give up. Do not surrender to the enemy who is seeking to destroy you. Do not give up on your quest for the abundant life Jesus offers to you or feel disheartened that it sometimes requires a fierce fight to get there.
Continually fill your mind with Scripture and bring all your requests to God with continual thanksgiving and praise. Pay attention to what passes through your minds and learn to discern the half-truths and lies of Satan.
And above all, do not neglect a focus on your future in heaven; learn to treasure your eternal inheritance above all earthly outcomes and treasures. It’s not wrong to enjoy the many good things God sends your way in this life or plan for our future, but do so remembering the temporal nature of this life versus eternity, which will not end.
My experience with PTSD would have gone so much smoother if I had learned early on to value my glorious future in eternity above my earthbound ambitions for this life. I endured much added sorrow because it took so long to treasure my eternal inheritance above the things of this life.
These are lessons from the front lines of a battle against a determined enemy. It was from this bloody fight that I emerged with a passion to write about our hope in Jesus’ imminent appearing and the joyous adventure ahead for us and oppose those who falsely dismiss our hope in Jesus’ return.