The timid boy sat hunched over between his mother and younger sister. With his head bent down, he stared at the floor. Nervously, he folded and unfolded his sweating hands, elbows perched on his thighs. He wiggled in his seat; his hands shook. The dreaded moment was here.
"Thomas will now favor us by playing 'Amazing Grace,' " the pastor said, smiling encouragingly at the boy.
Remaining in his seat, Thomas shook his head 'no'--his mother's arm went around his bony shoulders. Her head bent down as she whispered in his ear; affectionately, she smoothed his dark hair.
"I can't," he whispered in return. He shook his head again and stole a quick glance at the people seated behind him. His brown eyes welled up with tears, his small chin quivered, and he began to pant. It was coming!
His mother continued to softly whisper words of encouragement, but Thomas could no longer hold back the tears; the pressure in his chest mounted. He buried his head against his mother, sobbing quietly. A hush fell over the congregation.
Twice before this had happened--Thomas would be scheduled to play the piano during the Sunday church service, but he would have a panic attack, hyperventilate, and be unable to play. After several awkward minutes of watching poor Thomas gasping for air, the pastor would excuse him. Thomas would dash from the sanctuary with his mother in hot pursuit as parishioners murmured. Thomas wouldn't return to the service until he was able to catch his breath. And after the service, other kids mocked and teased him unmercifully.
Thomas's mother was a music teacher and church pianist; she spent lots of time teaching Thomas and his little sister, Emma, to play their instruments. At home, Thomas played flawlessly, but in church...panic! Emma played her violin solo in church often, and she was only eight years old! But Thomas couldn't do it--he was too afraid. Sometimes people called him,"Doubting Thomas." They thought his lack of confidence in himself caused the panic attacks.
Thomas wanted to play in church; he wanted to honor God with his music--but he couldn't do it.
Just as the pastor was about to give up on him again, Thomas sat up; he wiped his tears with the back of his hand. His mother took out a Kleenex and gently dabbed his eyes and nose. Again, in hushed voices, they exchanged conversation. Thomas was still breathing very hard, but this time he nodded 'Okay.' He stood up and slowly approached the piano.
Would he really do it? Could he do it? Everybody wondered.
Gently, Thomas lowered himself down on the piano bench. He pretended not to hear the snickers and giggles from several of the kids in the audience. He bowed his head again, closed his eyes; with lips barely moving, he whispered a quick prayer. "Please help me, Lord Jesus. Amen."
Then he sat up straighter and pulled his shoulders back. With trembling hands, he adjusted his music sheet. Long, slender fingers positioned themselves on the cool ivory and ebony keyboard. Thomas took a deep breath, slowly exhaled, and began to play. He played beautifully, perfectly! With each note he played, he relaxed more--his confidence was building. The red blotches were leaving his face. He was doing it! I'm almost through now, he thought. He breathed a sigh of relief.
Then it happened--he missed a note! No, oh no! He stopped playing. Embarrassed, his face flushed crimson. His eyes filled with tears; he gasped--it was coming again! Thomas prayed once more, but this time silently. Help me, Lord Jesus.
An inner voice rhythmically spoke to him, Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Thomas's gasping stopped. Inhale, exhale. The inner voice continued to pace his breathing. Thomas began to play again where he had stopped. When the last note was played, Thomas stood and faced the congregation, but he hung his head in shame. He wanted to crawl off and hide.
Then he heard it. Thundering applause filled the church! Thomas lifted his eyes to see all the parishioners standing and applauding him. A standing ovation! Thomas smiled broadly, bowed, and confidently walked back to his seat to join his family. Thomas's parents beamed with pride--Thomas had overcome his panic attack!
"Thank you, Lord Jesus." Thomas whispered it so softly that no one heard--no one except Jesus, that is.