Written By Jessica Tan, Singapore
I’ve always struggled with separation anxiety.
For a long time, venturing to other countries for study or work seemed impossible. But at 19, I ended up going overseas alone when I did a five-month internship in San Francisco as part of my school curriculum.
At that time, I was convinced that I no longer suffered from separation anxiety, because I had no qualms about traveling to another country that was a full 17-hour flight away. Things weren’t great back home then, so I was raring to get away from my life in Singapore.
But after returning back to Singapore and reconciling with my family, my separation anxiety resurfaced. Just before I started university in Melbourne, Australia, my relationship with my parents was at its tightest. I remember sinking into a depressive episode after my parents bid me farewell, having spent two weeks helping me settle in Melbourne.
Throughout university, it was pretty easy to detect the pattern of my separation anxiety—it would usually start a day or two before I headed back to school after spending my summer breaks in Singapore.
However, in February 2019, it hit me a full week earlier. For seven days, I would snap awake with the dread of leaving home already filling me. It took everything to get myself out of bed, because that meant coming face to face with the reality that I would be leaving soon. No amount of comforting from my family and friends could push away the horrid feeling thrumming through me, twisting my insides, and wrestling control from me.
God’s Unexplainable Peace
The day before my flight back to Melbourne that February, I had my first panic attack in ages. It left me breathless and light-headed. I cried out to God, repeating the same questions I had been voicing to Him the past few days: Why haven’t You removed this thorn from my flesh? Why am I not better? Why must I keep going through this despair? Surely the only way left is up!
Then, as I quietly mulled to myself, a resounding declaration echoed in my mind, loud and clear: I will show you how utterly weak I am, so that my Father will show you how unquestionably strong He is. It felt like the Holy Spirit gave me these words to help talk myself out of spiraling further, and I clung on to them for life, as wave after wave of anxiety crashed over me.
This declaration led to a sobering realization that God was the only one who could fully understand my suffering, the only one who could deliver me from it in whatever way He chose. I surrendered myself to His purpose, praying that somehow, my weakness would bring Him glory, even though I wasn’t sure how it would work.
That night, an unexplainable peace filled me, and I could rest properly for the first time in a week.
God Can Use Our Weakness for Good
However, I didn’t truly understand God’s purpose for my pain until two months later, at an Easter Camp my church held for university students. The theme passage for the camp was 2 Corinthians 4:7-10:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
As usual, on the last night of camp, a lot of folks decided to stay up the whole night to chat with one another. In light of the theme and key passage, I shared with a group of friends the story of my recent struggle with separation anxiety and my encounter with God’s peace.
As I was sharing, one of my friends began to tear up. She admitted that she felt so inadequate in God’s eyes that while she yearned to encounter Him like I did, she wondered if He would eventually give up on her.
It broke my heart.
Yet, just as powerfully as that bold statement came to me in the midst of my panic attack, I felt compelled to remind her of how much she’s truly loved by our Heavenly Father. God gave us His Son so that the grip of fear and sin would have no hold on us, not to just give up on us when we’re broken. The truth is: We are inadequate. We’re not going to get by in this life by fighting our own darkness and “fixing” our brokenness alone. That’s why we all need Christ.
My friend’s eyes flooded with relief as I shared this truth. I prayed with her, asking God earnestly that she would fully experience Him in her life.
A New Chapter
A few months later, I caught up with the same friend over Thanksgiving. She recounted how she’d held on to that prayer, and how it felt so alive in her mind. She then shared about how God has been revealing Himself in her life. I realized that encountering God in my weakness was what allowed me to understand my friend’s initial doubts so I could reach out to her in a way that genuinely reassured us of God’s love for us.
I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it is the beginning of yet another chapter in my walk with God. I still wrestle with separation anxiety. It hasn’t been magically over-written as I’ve discovered the purpose behind my weakness. But my perspective on suffering has shifted.
I used to think that pinning purpose to pain trivialized my suffering, leading me to question God and blame Him for the “needlessness” of it all. However, I’m now able to look at the pain with a confidence that it has no power over me because God’s purpose grants me victory over it.
With that, I’ve emerged with a revitalized trust in God’s faithful love—regardless of the storms and uncertainty, I know that He won’t leave us to fend for ourselves.