Learning How to Breathe Again


Breathing is a natural, involuntary process God gave our bodies to help them thrive. It’s something we don’t think much about, until there’s a problem with it. Not being able to breathe is a scary feeling that makes us panic because we know that without breath, we cease to live. As long as there’s no problem with it, however, we usually take this gift very much for granted.

Last week as I sat in my counselor’s office, she told me to breathe, and I looked at her a little confused. I thought I was breathing, but apparently, there is more than one way to breathe. Different situations necessitate different types of breathing.

When you’re at the hospital, for example, and the nurse is getting ready to insert an IV into your arm, she will ask you to take a deep breath. When you’re anxious, people tell you to take short, shallow, fast breaths. When you’re getting an epidural put into your back, the anesthesiologist will tell you to take a deep breath and then hold it. When you’re giving birth, you’re supposed to practice what they call Lamaze breathing. When my kids are hurt and freaking out about it, I tell them to take deep, slow breaths, in through the nose and out through their mouths. When you’re running long distances, your breathing should be rhythmic, and also drawn in through the nose and pushed out through the mouth.

When you are recounting traumatic events that have contributed to your emotional fragility, you need to take deep, slow breaths in between each one. In through the nose and out through the mouth. I followed my counselor’s instructions, not really understanding the point, but trusting her expertise. Afterall, I’m seeing her because I need help processing through the mess that life is in this season. Once I began to breathe, I realized she was very right. I hadn’t been breathing. Not like this. Not with intentionality. And it made a very big difference in the way that I felt as well as my ability to see and think more clearly.

She pointed out that I had made a habit of holding my breath, waiting for the next big blow to come. I couldn’t argue with her. I absolutely have been carrying that expectation, and because of it – because I haven’t been breathing it out and releasing the pain of each blow, my body has been holding tension in its joints and muscles. This I also could not argue with, because I feel it like a strong poison inside. Everything hurts.

As I left her office with my new tool, I began to consider the wonder of the miraculous way that God has created us. The connection between the physical, spiritual and emotional aspects of who we are is powerful and astounding. Who would think that something as simple as breathing differently could bring healing to the body, the mind and the emotions? I’ve been breathing for a week now, and it is making a huge difference not only in my body, but in my perception. It slows me down. It refocuses me. It keeps my thoughts on the horizon of hope, instead of buried beneath the anticipation of more pain.

I decided to look up some information on the purpose of breathing, particularly breathing with intentionality, just to learn a little more about the process. Turns out there have been a lot of studies on breathing, and that it’s a well known, healthy coping skill. One study I read said that controlled breathing can enhance relaxation and decrease our perception of pain. This week, I have discovered this to be absolutely true. I wish I had been wise enough to embrace this simple wisdom earlier in my life.

Before I gave birth to my first child, I took a Lamaze class. I figured that, since I had never given birth before, I should learn as much about the process as I could. After the class, I foolishly decided it was a waste of time and money. I concluded that my body knew how to breathe all on its own and wouldn’t fail me in that process. So I went into labor and suffered much. My husband gently tried to remind me to breathe like I had been taught to, and I reminded him that he was not the one giving birth, so he didn’t get to tell my body how to process its pain (in other, less kind words, of course). I rejected the wisdom that would have helped me much during that painful time.

Thankfully, by God’s grace, I have matured and grown in wisdom. I am not rejecting the advice I have received for this season. I recognize that, in the pain, God is bringing something to birth, and I need to be present for it. The way I breathe will affect that. It will also affect my ability to experience and rejoice in God’s presence in the midst of the pain. I can, with some conscious effort, align my heart with God’s activity in the deep mess I see, and with deep breaths, choose to believe that He is with me here. I know it may sound silly, but breathing reminds me that I am not alone.

There’s a reason for this.

Once, when I was in my twenties and my life was a serious, self-induced mess, I went to a rock in my neighborhood and sat down to pray. Things were so bad, and I felt so lost and abandoned that I didn’t even know if the God I was praying to was real anymore. But He would have been my only hope, so I had to try.

From that rock, I prayed, “God, if you’re real, I really need You to show me.” All of sudden, it felt like a huge, heavy hand swept down from Heaven and snatched the breath out of my chest. I sat on that rock gasping for air, afraid I was going to die. After what felt like forever but was probably less than 30 seconds, my breath was returned, and I sat stunned, wondering what had just happened.

There were no words that came with that experience. No explanations were given. But I knew one thing beyond the shadow of a doubt when I left the rock that day: the breath in my chest was proof that God is real. Without Him, I wouldn’t be alive. I have never questioned God’s existence since! And I have a new appreciation for the breath that keeps my body alive.

There have been worship songs sung about the breath God puts in our lungs, and about breathing Him in with each breath. I love these songs because they speak truths I so closely identify with. Life-changing truths. Simple truths. Truths that remind me of God’s faithfulness, even when I can’t feel it or see it. Truths that tell me to just keep breathing, and that as long as I do, I’m going to be ok, because breathing means God is still with me.

Dear Woman of Breakthrough, this is a marvelous, beautiful, and often difficult season full of memories that sometimes bring waves of grief or disappointment. God knows. That is why He sent the greatest gift we could ever want or need. Jesus with breath in His lungs. A fragile little life that would be a living example of God’s faithfulness to bring promises to life as we just live and worship.

Today, I hope you will recognize the gift of breath that God has placed within you, to help you thrive. and let that gift draw your heart closer to His. As you inhale the conscious reminder of His constant presence, you can exhale the fear and the pain and the worry. If you will allow Him to, He will renew you, breath by breath.

It’s a simple gift but it’s yours. And it’s mine. And it’s good. Let’s breathe the way God created us to. Let’s be intentional about connecting with Him as we draw each breath. And as we do, I believe we will be much more present for the beautiful, miraculous, little things He is doing in us and all around us.

{Photo images courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com}


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