Just breathe. We’ve heard a lot about breathing in recent weeks: about George Floyd’s last breath plea of “I can’t breathe”; about the breathing struggles of those who experience the symptoms of Covid, hospitalized or not; about the fact that our own breath can become an instrument of harm to others with whom we share the air when we fail to wear a mask. Just breathing can be challenging these days.
Just breathe. This was some guidance offered by Pastor Chris Haughhee, chaplain at Intermountain Children’s Home (a Montana Synod ministry partner), with the kids who are experiencing mental health struggles such as clinical anxiety and depression brought about by trauma in their lives. Pastor Haughhee shared this breathing guidance in a blog (found here) and with it a short, 3 minute film called “Just breathe.”
In this film, various children describe in detail their own experience with anger and what it feels like. One little girl uses the image of a jar full of glitter in water. To her, anger feels like that jar being shaken wildly so that all that glitter is exploding through her brain and she can’t see anything but flashing sparks of light. But, the girl says later, when she stops and just breathes, the anger settles down the way glitter drifts to the bottom of the jar when it’s no longer shaken. The film ends with both children and adults practicing the art of just breathing. (Watch the video here.)
Just breathe. This is good advice for us all these days. “And the Lord God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life and Adam became a living being.” (Gen 2:7) “Thus said the Lord God, Come from the four winds, O breath/Spirit, and breathe upon these dead that they may live.” (Ez 37:9). “And Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (Jn 30:22)
But how can we stop and sit in the midst of a chaotic world that is shaking our glitter jar and just breathe? How can we inhale God’s Spirit of life and wholeness and the peace that passes all our understanding even as we exhale our anger, fear, and anxieties? How can we just breathe when it seems there are so many voices telling us to just jump?
Over and over we hear, “just jump” back into the social and economic world the way it used to be. “Just jump” off the cliff into the mire of our dysfunctional political system (are you already as sick of the ads as I am?!). “Just jump” in front of the moving train that is Covid-19 racing through our country at barrel-neck speeds, putting our own breathing and the breath of others at greater risk.
I remember when I was a kid standing on top of the high dive for the first time at the Rolla, ND swimming pool. My knees were shaking, my heart was racing, and every instinct I had was telling me to climb back down the ladder. But the kids below were shouting “just jump you scaredy cat!” And my own brain, trying to be brave in its terror, was shouting, “You can do it, you scaredy cat. Just jump.”
And I did. And I survived…but not without experiencing an awful wedgie that I’ve never forgotten and learning my lesson that just jumping, especially when I’m doing it for no other reason than to prove my courage in the midst of terror or get my own way, isn’t often the good or right thing to do.
In fact, it’s well known that Jesus didn’t jump. In the Gospel of Matthew, the devil’s second temptation involved taking Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and telling him to “just jump.” “If you are God’s Son, throw yourself off and let the angels catch you. You won’t even stub a toe,” the devil says, even quoting scripture at Jesus to prove his point. (Mt 4:5-7)
“Don’t be afraid. It’s not real anyway. Don’t you trust God?! God will save you. Just jump.” Voices in our culture are saying versions of these words to us over and over again, tempting us through shame, doubt and fear to take unnecessary and even dumb risks to prove our bravery, often to try get their own way or seek their own purposes.
But Jesus didn’t jump. And neither should we. Jesus’ response to this temptation is to say, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Don’t test God by putting yourself in harm’s way unnecessarily. Don’t throw yourself in front of moving trains challenging God to save you when you have been given the ability and intelligence to protect yourself. Instead follow Jesus and just don’t jump.
Instead, just breathe. Take a deep breath and release the anger, the fear of being seen as afraid, the anxiety of losing control. Take a deep breath and let the Holy Spirit pray for you with sighs too deep for words. Take a deep breath and fill your whole self and your whole community with God’s life and wisdom and hope.
For yes, God will save us and does save us always! But we cannot receive God’s gift by making bad, unhealthy and unloving choices. We receive God’s salvation by trusting deeply in God’s ever-ready, eternal love for us and then living out that love in all we do and say.
So don’t jump. Instead take some time today and every day to “just breathe.” Learn from the kids in the film and let all the sparkling glitter of anger go to the bottom of your brain. And then just breathe with God, allowing the Spirit to be your diaphragm and lungs, reminding you that nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In Christ’s love,