I’ve been at both ends and all points in between.
I have listened with joy to the spark of life erupting with a gasp when both my daughters inhaled for the first time. Spectacular. Nothing else can compare but for one thing. The final exhale. I’ve been there for that too.
In my teens, I spent inordinate amounts of time holding my breath in my parents swimming pool. Filling my lungs full of air, I would drop the bottom of the pool and push off from the wall. One, two, three or more laps I would swim up and back while my lungs begged for air.
Keep going; I would tell myself. Another length of the pool.
Four laps in my lungs would begin to scream, but I learned how to block it out. Soon my head and limbs would join in the noise. It was time to breath out. The out breath can always be done under the surface of the water so I could swim one more lap.
Eventually, though, the roar from my body and lungs would build to a crescendo, and I would surface. That first breath is like no other. Pure bliss. The ache of sucking air deep into every part of my lungs
Everything we do can be brought back to breath. It is one of the essential elements of our existence. Without it, we don’t last long at all. It is incredibly simple yet entirely complex. On one level it’s just in and out. Dig deeper though and you’ll find a rabbit hole from which even Alice would flee.
Take for this for instance: it’s the only life-sustaining process that is both conscious and unconscious.
I find this perplexing. When breathing stops, so do we. Yet I can voluntarily hold my breath for minutes at a time. The world record for holding your breath is 22 minutes by a Danish free diver named Stig. However, if you cut off my oxygen supply for 30 seconds (or less) I will pass out. I know this from experience. When holding your breath (or getting choked out like a UFC fighter) eventually the need for air overrides the desire for control and we pass out. As we pass out, the control of breathing moves to a different part of the brain and we begin to breath normally again.
So something vital to our existence is given to us as gift to play with as we choose. I love the way God does this. No other organ is like this. I can’t make my heart stop beating just by deciding to make it stop. But I can hold my breath. I still have worked how to make my liver increase productivity or cause my spleen to do more or less of whatever it is that spleens do. But I can make my breathing rate speed up or slow down at will. I love this about breathing.
With the breath, I can praise God. Encouragement, storytelling, and prayer all require breath.
Sometimes, though, it is all we have. There have been times in my life where all I have is breath. In. Out. When all else crumbles, and there is little to cling to, I can come back to the very first gift that my Father God ever gave me. Breath. Every breath that we draw is a gift from God. If an average person lives to 80, they will take almost 700,000,000 breathes. With this many gifts, it is easy to become complacent and forget the gift giver. So when trouble strikes, this too is a gift because it forces me to return to my breath and begin again to thank God for each breath.
It is my reset button.
Narrowing my focus, I am able to slow my breathing, remembering God’s grace on every exhale. It is by God’s grace the next breath in is coming. Feelings of gratitude begin to fill my soul and that peace that surpasses all understanding appears seemingly from nowhere. I realise that my problems will still be there and that I can’t just breathe them out of existence. But remembering that breath is my first point of connection gives me a reliable point to which I can return. Becoming mindful of this connection is synonymous with my ever-present connection with Jesus. Even when I forget who I am, or what I am doing. When I overwhelmed by life, that connection is there always.
And then I breathe.