Exiting the Maze: A Spiritual Answer to Psychological Chaos
The lights were low, the band was playing, and people all around me were praying. My friends seemed to be experiencing God in powerful ways, but I sat in the pew, lost in confusion. I could not escape the mental torment that had become my reality. As I struggled through the endless twists and turns of delusional thinking, a friend came and sat next to me. I shared my frustration with him: “I feel like I’m lost in a maze, a confusing maze of thoughts, and I cannot find the exit.” He responded reassuringly: “Sometimes, Nathan, the only way out is up.”
From early on, my childhood had been characterized by strong, stable Christian values. However, when I graduated from high school and went off to the University of Michigan, I began to fundamentally question everything about my beliefs. I had an endless stream of doubts, and as my spiritual foundation began to erode, I also found myself grappling increasingly with irrational, paralyzing fear.
As the zeal to “find the answers” was eventually replaced by disillusionment and despair, my thinking patterns and behaviors became increasingly obsessive. Before climbing into bed, I would turn off the light. Then I would turn it back on. Then off again. For some reason, I thought that I had to turn the light off the “right” way, and every time I got it wrong, I had to do it again.
Other behaviors were equally strange. At times, I found myself jumping slightly off the ground whenever I had an immoral thought. I also began to cough or tense up my body repetitively as feelings of anxiety increased. Negative mental associations dominated my thinking, making daily tasks nearly impossible.
In my own mind, I was constantly at the mercy of a tormenting labyrinth of contaminants. I went through bottle after bottle of hand soap. Every time I touched something that was “contaminated,” it meant another trip to the bathroom to wash my hands. During a summer internship in DC, my small townhouse bedroom became a chaotic mess as I desperately attempted to avoid “contamination” from various items. The floor was speckled with loose change, pieces of candy, and small bits of paper. I had to sit in the corner and strategize how to get across the room without touching anything that was potentially “harmful.”
In particularly dark moments of fear and psychological torment, I became completely paralyzed. Holed up in my room, I was chained in a mental prison that I could not escape.
Perhaps the worst spell of paralysis took place on the first floor of the DC townhouse. Fear was closing in around me like a boa constrictor, and I could not move. I twitched and jerked in small furtive movements, but I could not seem to go anywhere. For perhaps hours, I stayed in one spot between the dining room and the living room, locked in a stronghold. First I was standing, then eventually sitting, and all the while, I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, but I could not scream. I wanted to cry out in anguish, but I could not cry. All was quiet on the outside, but my soul was being brutally and mercilessly tortured. I don’t remember how I finally escaped; I probably came near to collapsing from pure mental and physical exhaustion.
After years of psychological anguish, I finally gave up my emotionally charged rebellion against God. I fell to my knees, surrendered, and said, “God, I just want to know You for who You are.” In His mercy, He began to minister to my spirit through the story of Peter walking on the water to go to Jesus, and this story became a cornerstone of my recovery.