Panic In The Back Seat





When Karen was five, she had her first and only panic attack. It was on a Sunday, after church. She had a tummy ache and, with it, a sudden terror. What if she died? She began to hyperventilate, so Dad and Mom put her in the car, where she sat in the back seat between her grandmothers as they raced to the hospital.

In that moment of paralyzing fear, when five-year-old Karen thought she was dying, she told her grandmothers she wanted to ask Jesus into her heart—and she did.

Shortly after she said the prayer, the only panic attack she’s ever had subsided. They never made it to the hospital. Instead, they turned the car for home and celebrated a small miracle.

And it was. Jesus met Karen in her five-year-old terror and saved her with His great loving-kindness. But for the next 40 years, Karen told her salvation story through the lens of her evangelical upbringing as though it were cute. And we’d all grin because Karen has always been cute—and because God has always been good.

However, as we have grown in the love of our heavenly Father and discovered a goodness beyond what we knew yesterday, and through raising our kids—as well as some healthy deconstructing—that story is no longer cute.

You see, in the last few years, Karen has realized what happened.

That morning, in Sunday School, she’d likely received some version of the typical salvation message—the one with which many of us have grown up. Remember? It’s the one about punishment that often-included hell trains and the gnashing of teeth, forever, etc., etc., etc.

When she looks back on that salvation prayer now, she recognizes the kindness of God, the sweetness of loving family, and the reconciling wonder of the good news. At the same time, she recognizes how her little five-year-old heart was exploited and how her innocent and sincere desire for Jesus was manipulated by religious fear-mongering.

There is no bitterness in Karen. Kindness marked her formative years and continues to transform our families. She believes those who likely shared the sin counting, hellfire, Western evangelical salvation message were good, well-meaning people doing their level best; but also, because of kindness, she has deconstructed any salvation message that leverages hell and a cruel and punishing God to manipulate hearts of any age, because it is abusive and nothing like Jesus…

This article is excerpted from my book, Leaving and Finding Jesus

Jason Clark is a bestselling storyteller who writes to reveal the transforming kindness of the love of God. He and his wife, Karen, live in North Carolina with their three children, Madeleine, Ethan, and Eva.


  1. C.B. Eagles

    Dear Jason, This past week I taught the story of the widow’s flour that multiplied with Elisha, and my friend said, Jason Clark had a story like that. In Africa he bought a hamburger at McDonald’s, and gave it to a beggar, but still had one and ended up with ten hamburgers, she couldn’t remember if you ate the last one! I’d really like to tell the story to the kids next week in following up, wondered if you could add any more details, what country, what decade, thanks for helping me out (and sorry this has nothing to do with your story above, couldnt find an email for asking you otherwise!) Kindly email me back! In Christ, C.B. Eagles

    • Jason Clark

      Hey, C.B

      Great to hear from you. That’s actually my brother’s story, but I’ve told it often and wrote about it in my first book, Surrendered & Untamed. It happened at least 20 years ago. I posted the story from the book below.

      The McDonald’s Miracle

      Years ago my brother Joel was living in South Africa working as a youth pastor. He was headed back to his apartment one day after having been up early and serving a mission team late into the night. Exhausted and hungry, he drove past a McDonalds.

      The idea of a hamburger, fries, and a Coke seemed the perfect way to unwind at the end of this day. As he walked in, a few homeless street kids stood around the entrance. This wasn’t unusual, but as he started to order his Biggie-Size Mac Meal, something else was—he heard God whisper, “Buy the boys some hamburgers.”

      Joel was tired and only had enough rand (South African currency) for his meal. He was slightly annoyed, thinking, “I’ve worked all day and I don’t even have enough money to get myself everything I want, let alone feed the kids outside.” But because Joel was learning how to live violently believing, he ran headlong into what he believed God was asking him to do.

      He bought as many burgers as he could afford, five total. But as he walked out of the restaurant, he saw there were seven kids. He didn’t have enough, plus the chances of him getting one were slim. But if you have the authority to run at a giant, it’s foolish to turn back. He began passing out burgers to the boys outside.

      Now this really gets good. As Joel passed out burgers, more kids from across the street saw what he was doing and began to make their way toward him. Still, he just kept obeying what God had said to him, following through on the invitation—he kept saying yes. And somewhere between God’s whisper and way too many mouths to feed, it dawned on him that he should have run out of burgers long ago. But he didn’t.

      Suddenly Joel wasn’t tired anymore. Suddenly Joel was having fun. When he handed the last boy a burger, he looked in the bag. Yeah, you guessed it—one left over, just for Joel.


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