When It's Hard to Breathe: YHWH is the Breath of Life

When it's hard to breath: YHWH is the Breath of Life

I've been thinking about breathing a lot, lately. Something I've done so easily my whole life has never needed thought to make it happen. (Except when I was 7 and ran full-speed smack into a friend that was running the other way and got the wind knocked out of me. That was a moment when it was hard to breathe.)

There's been moments lately when the anxious thoughts get to me and make my body tense and stop my breath in a knot in my chest, and I can't seem to take a full, deep breath even if I try. And I do try and it takes several tries before finally getting the breath all the way down into my lungs where it's supposed to go.

So I've been thinking about breathing.

I've been thinking about how God breathed His breath of life into Adam in Genesis 2:7. And that same breath has given life to humanity for countless generations and people. God's breath of life is what flows through me today to keep me alive.

I've been thinking about how God breathed life into the dry bones of Ezekiel 37:5.

I've been thinking about how God doesn't need anything from us because He gives life and breath and all the things according to Acts 17:25. Then in verse 28 we're told we're His offspring. We are the children of the God who holds the breath of life.

Many things threaten to take that breath away from me.

Motherhood, for one. The comedian Jim Gaffigan tells about what it was like to have their fourth child by saying, Imagine you're drowning... and then someone hands you a baby. It's like that. We don't have four children, but our three sure have a fire in them. And every fight and cry has a way of tensing up my back and my shoulders and my neck until I realize I'm not taking actual breaths.

That's just my one constant stressor. (Don't get me wrong, they're a joy, too, but that's not relevant to this post.) Then there's finances and political tension and world disaster and seeing relationships fall apart in the comments on Facebook. And I find it hard to take a full, deep breath in the middle of it all.


It feels a little bit like when my sister and I were swimming in the Atlantic Ocean with our grandpa. We followed his lead, swimming further and further away from the shore. Until finally we question, shouldn't we be heading back? He doesn't seem worried, but I'm swimming around trying to keep my feet from dropping because I am panicked about what's swimming way down below.

Grandpa, calm as can be, tells me to put my feet down.

Um, nah.

Until I'm short of breath and my feet drop and I realize Grandpa has been calm and breathing fine because he is sitting on a sand bar. My toes dig into the sandy bottom and the water barely brushes past my knees.

All of the flailing and panicking and being short of breath and I just wish I had given in and put my feet down sooner.

That's where I am. Finally starting to find my breath and find my footing and wishing I had given in sooner. Problem was, I didn't really know how. Maybe you can relate. You know God is the answer and surrender to Him is the action, but how? How do we put our feet down and take a deep breath?

I found some great ideas in Philippians 4:

1. Rejoice in the Lord always. It's worth repeating: Rejoice! Philippians 4:4

When I just don't know what to do or where to start, rejoice. Easier said than done, right? Well, the following 3 actions might help.

2. Let your gentleness show to others. Philippians 4:5

When the kids are yelling or the comments are rolling or the sides are taken, gentleness isn't necessarily the easy response. Still, a gentle response grows into loosened muscles, surrendered will, deep breaths, and built bridges.

3. Replace anxious thoughts with prayer and thanks. Philippians 4:6

When the worry comes: Pray. Because there is always space in my mind to pray. Or sometimes only space in my mind to pray. And when the despair settles: Give thanks. Because there is always always something to be thankful.

4. Think on good things. Philippians 4:8

When my mind wanders where I don't want it to go, I can bring it back around to whatever is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, brings good news, has virtue, or is praiseworthy.

Then, God's peace will guard our hearts. (verse 7)

It almost seems like pat, cliche answers, doesn't it?

If I tried to pass it off as a one-time cure-all, then yes, it would absolutely be a trite solution.

It's not a one-time thing. It's an all-the-time thing. As surely as the breaths we breathe to keep us alive, so is our need for the very Source of that breath of life. In and out; here I am. In and out; mind on Him. In and out; surrender.

I've taught myself otherwise. In my gut reaction to stress and overwhelm and anxiety, I've taught myself to tighten and flinch and hold my breath. Like a car passenger bracing for impact in an accident, my body follows my breath. Breath gone, body tight. It happens to a lesser degree throughout each day.

Child yells--breath gone, body tight. Seeing sides being taken online--breath gone, body tight. Reading about another war, another disaster, another tragedy--breath gone, body tight.

Now, I've got to un-teach my body such bad reactions to stress. I've got to re-teach myself how to breathe.

I experienced the breathing struggle in my yoga class yesterday. It was a yin practice, meaning we spent the whole time in simple stretches while focusing on breathing. And even when my focus was breathing, I still found myself tightening and holding my breath. So, I had to steady my breath, in and out, and let my body follow the breath--loosen, relax, settle.

As I breathed, I remembered Rob Bell's description of YHWH, the name for God. That it's less definitive word and more the sound we make with our breath. Like a newborn baby taking it's first breath in: yah. And like someone breathing out their last breath at the end of their life: weh. YHWH. God. Our Breath of Life.

I am relearning how to let my breath and then my body surrender to YHWH, the Breath of Life.

When it all seems just too hard. When rejoicing and gentleness and prayer and thanks and thinking good things seem like the hardest thing I'll do today, and my breath gets caught in my chest at the difficulty of it all, I remember how Philippians 4 continues in verse 12-13...

Whatever state I'm in, I can breathe through the strength of Christ. The One who makes me who I am. He is my breath of life.


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