Just Breathe

Then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.
- Genesis 2:7

Life starts with breath. Then it requires a beating heart. 

Too often though, our hearts, and even our heads, lead out and our breath doesn’t keep up. We keep pushing on anyway, and can find ourselves exhausted.

There’s a phenomenon when the heart beats faster, but our breath doesn’t keep up. Lactic acid is formed when our bodies begin to produce energy that does not require oxygen – it’s called anaerobic respiration. Lactic acid burns, as oxygen isn’t delivered to our muscles and organs as quickly as needed. Eventually, that energy burn cannot be sustained. We need the oxygen given to us by our breath. Energy requires oxygen.

This seems to be the tension so many of us live in. Our breath can’t keep up with our busy.

Our society, and sometimes even our churches and ministries, have a tendency to glorify a busy life. 

However, a frenetic pace does not necessarily equal faithfulness. Being busy is not a spiritual gift. 

Breath is a natural thing. We even have a saying – “It’s as natural as breathing.” But, as modern-day American Christians, I wonder if we, if I, need to relearn how to breathe. 

Here’s what the Lord has been speaking to my heart, about how to breathe in such a way that fuels my life in Him.

Here are three steps to breathing better:

Be still.

My senior year of high school, I landed the lead role in the school play. Opening night loomed large, and a few hours before show time, my anxiety was through the roof. I could feel my heart beating faster and faster, and my breath matching with nervous, shallow ins and outs. I could not calm myself down. 

So, I disappeared. I found an upstairs room away from the behind-the-curtain buzz, and sat down to the silence of my own worried thoughts. Then, I started singing.

I began belting out praise choruses to Jesus. I couldn’t pray, so I sang. This was exactly what I did when I couldn’t sleep because a nightmare had jerked me out of REM, or when I felt nervous before a big event. I had a whole line-up of songs that I would sing.

Worship came before performance. And as I worshipped, God redirected my gaze, my actions and my life on the Only One Who is worthy – Who is my source and reason. Eventually, my breathing locked back into calm, steadying me for what was next.

Psalm 62:5-6 says this – 

Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.

These same songs I sang before curtain call, were also the ones I found myself singing many years later to my infant children while rocking them to sleep at night. Worship stills worry, and being humble before the Lord centers our hope in Him.

Focus on the breath.

As a kid, it always seemed like if we played long enough, a contest would spring up amongst the group. For me, it was usually who could jump the furthest. Keep in mind I was a competitive child (for those who know me, I’m sure you are shocked – ha!), so I would go to great lengths 🙂 to make sure I would get just past everyone else.

While we were waiting for my sister to finish with her dance class, a bunch of us girls were in a side room and decided to compare our leaping ability. I chose to go last, so I could strategize everyone’s technique in order to win. It was finally my turn, so I backed up, sprinted hard, threw my body forward…..

And slammed right into the opposite wall. I nailed a door, the knob punched me straight in the stomach, and I fell back with a loud thud. 

I laid there, and had this terrible sensation I was about to die. When the wind is knocked out of you, your diaphragm is paralyzed, and you feel like you cannot breathe. It is truly awful gasping for breath. When you go through something like this, you realize that if you don’t breath in, you can’t breath out.

I remember when my kids were little, and they were hurt and crying inconsolably, I would wrap them up in my arms and hold them close. I wanted them to feel the strength of my love, and the steadiness of my breath and my heart beat. Calm breathing calms breathing. Eventually, they would begin to relax to my rhythm and find peace again.

The same is true with Christ. When we find ourselves in circumstances that take our breath away, or keep us in a state of not being able to regulate our breath, we must go to Jesus. It’s only in His arms that we can find peace again.

His breath is our source of life. His breathing sustains us.

  • God loved me first (breathe in), now I can love (breathe out).
  • God forgave me (breathe in), now I can forgive others (breathe out).
  • God shows me patience (breathe in), I can extend patience (breathe out).
  • Mercy in, mercy out. 
  • Grace in, grace out.

My breath, my life, always begins in Christ. And, I must go back again and again. He is my life, and I cannot live without Him.

Jackson and I taking a break from swimming at the lake this summer

Let Jesus set the pace.

This summer I finally achieved a feat I had been trying for years: I swam under water across the entire length of our community Olympic-sized (maybe longer?) pool. And, I wasn’t heaving for air at the end!

Each summer swimming season, I work to expand my lung capacity in swimming underwater. Swimming underwater is my favorite!

Science proves that you can hold your breath longer than you think you can. Our lungs have amazing capacity – but our trust in that is limited. Our minds trick us into quitting rather than pushing to stay under longer.

When I swim from one end of a pool to the other, especially a really large one, seeing the line markers on the bottom of a pool or being able to see the wall ahead of me that last 10 feet, allows me to go further than I could otherwise. I think to myself, “My lungs are lying to me – I can do this!” while I keep my arms and legs moving to make it all the way (note – there are limitations to this, and I’m not swimming deep so I can always easily surface.) If I can’t see even one stripe ahead, it’s much harder. I don’t swim with my eyes closed, and am always straining to see ahead of me.

I’ve also discovered that in underwater swimming or in holding my breath while swimming, faster does not equal further. When I’m swimming underwater, strong, fluid, gliding movements propel me longer and further and sustain my breath capacity, rather than constant kicking and arm strokes. I could swim on top of the water in a freestyle stroke with all my might and go very fast. I could win a timed race that way. But I wouldn’t be able to swim as far on that one breath. Faster does not equal further when it comes to my breath. 

Here are just a few spiritual lessons from underwater swimming:

  • God has given us more power and capacity than we think. Don’t let the Devil trick you into giving up on God’s promises and calling.
  • Look ahead. Don’t close your eyes to what God is doing, but strive toward growth and our secure future in Him. Philippians 3:12-14 says, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
  • Don’t rush – keep in pace with Jesus. Remember – faster does not equal further.
  • We can’t force endurance. It is built. And, unless the Lord builds, we labor in vain (Psalm 127:1). That includes the pace. So, we’ve got to let Him set the pace, and let Him build our endurance. 

The Lord is our breath. He is our life. He is my life. And, I want to breathe the right way, to give Him glory. To worship and watch Him at work. To focus my breath to take Him in first. And, to follow Him at His pace.

One of the songs in my line-up that I sang to my kids, and before my senior play, has recently been beautifully re-recorded by Chris Tomlin and Steffany Gretzinger. If you find yourself needing to breathe better this week, I encourage you to close your eyes, listen in, and allow the Lord to breathe life into you again.

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