Just Breathe: The One Practice You Need in a Time of Uncertainty

breath

I was sitting by our back porch door, trying to have a grown-up conversation with my husband: 

“I just . . .”

“Mom! Can I have some orange juice?!” 

“Just a minute,” I said to my son. I tried starting the sentence again. “I’m just wondering . . .” 

“Mom! May I have some water, please?” my oldest daughter chimed in. 

“Yes. Wait just a moment.” I said, flatly.

A third try. “I just wonder if there’s a different way . . .”

“Mom!” 

I didn’t care who it was this time. My throat tightened and I could feel frustration rising in me. This was my new reality as a parent, trying to squeeze everything in. This was me attempting to have an impromptu conversation with my husband, while also being attentive to my three children, while also finding time to do dishes and laundry and feed the humans under my roof. Somewhere in there, work needed to happen. I was grateful to still have a job, and yet was finding diminishing capacity – both physically and emotionally – to do it. Our kids were needing more of me as the weeks passed, not less. Without their daily rhythms of school and social activities, and without their friends as a source of joy and connection, my husband and I were the only humans that could comfort them and hug them and give them opportunities for play and rest.

You know what I didn’t just mention? Self-care. All the permission I’d received and given myself to put my own “oxygen mask”? Non-existent. Yes, a nap would be nice. Of course I’d like to work out every day at the same time like I used to. Obviously I’d like an uninterrupted shower and time to be with my friends and start a new hobby.

But here I was, struggling to even just complete simple sentences. “Self-care” as I’d previously defined it would either need to take a back seat – or be re-defined completely. 

Somewhere in the cracks of chaos, holding both the overwhelming frustration and the sincere gratitude for what I did have in this season, I caught myself saying these two words internally: “Deep breath.”

Over time, I realized why this was my go-to phrase. I realized that I was reminding myself to breathe because there’s something about connection to breath that gives strength for whatever happens next. There’s a readying and a positioning that breath offers as it draws us back to the foundations of who we are and what we’re made of despite our surroundings or circumstances. In reminding myself to breathe, I was calling myself back to my home in God.

Martin Laird, in his work Into the Silent Land, says that exterior isolation is overcome in interior communion. This is what I’m longing for. In this season of so many unknowns, I can no longer access the exterior points of connection that made my returning to my daily rhythms both inspired and refreshed. I need a new, more reliable, main point of connection. Turns out, that point of connection can be found within. 

In the beginning of the story of Scripture, in Genesis 2, God breathed life into man. This was our point of origin. We were only able to move and have our being because of God’s given breath. Fast forward to the New Testament, and in John 2 we see Jesus breathing on His disciples, telling them to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is interesting to me because the Spirit was available through Jesus, but the disciples still had to actively receive it. This was not a passive exchange. 

What if, in this new strange time, my life doesn’t include me trying to squeeze in time for myself in the cracks? What if I moved away from this kind of scarcity-based approach to self-care and trusted the fullness of what’s available to me in the gift of God’s breath, the gift of the Holy Spirit that’s accessible at any time, anywhere? Given how little space I found I had to reflect and process in silence (can you tell I’m an introvert?), I was willing to try just about anything. And the surprise of this season was this: I really can access the power-infused, life-giving breath of God, right where I am. Right in the middle of our living room. Right in the midst of an interrupted conversation with my husband. But I have to actively receive it.

So how do we actively receive? The practice I find myself coming back to is called breath prayer. Here’s how it works: 

  • RELAX. If you’re able to be in solitude, find a comfortable posture. If you’re unable to be alone, relax your muscles. Unclench your jaw, soften your shoulders, open your hands. No matter where you are, you can notice where your body is holding tension. No one needs to know you’re even doing it! 
  • BREATHE DEEPLY. Start slowing your breathing by using a 3-count breath. Breathe in for three, out for three. Do this multiple times until you feel you’ve focused your attention away from external activity, and toward your inward state: your heartbeat, your inner thoughts, your actual longings in that moment. (Sometimes, as I do this, I notice that my frustration or anxiety is actually inviting me to lament a loss or surrender a lesser love that I’ve been relying on as a life source.)
  • PICK A WORD. Choose a simple word or phrase grounded in Scripture that’s especially anchoring for you, meaning it brings you back to life found in Christ: One phrase you might start with is the Jesus prayer: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” This prayer reminds me just how much I’m dependent on Jesus’ grace and mercy in all aspects of my life, in every moment. I’m both reminded that I will continue to fall short, as I am imperfect; and I’m reminded of his strength and ability to sustain me through any situation. Two phrases I come back to often in breath prayer are: Be still or Be loved. I breathe in “Be,” and exhale “still” or “loved.” For this specific season of uncertainty, especially for our brothers and sisters in healthcare, another phrase I’m leaning into is: (Inhale) “Hope and healing . . .  (Exhale) . . . are in you, Jesus.”

I’m always so in awe of how breath prayer re-grounds and re-centers me to the true source of life found in Christ alone. 

Everything looks different these days. I’m becoming quite acquainted with my own shortcomings and limitations. But I’m also getting a chance to know myself and those in my household in deeper ways, experiencing joy in moments we otherwise wouldn’t have.

As you navigate this unknown, whether you’re in a house filled with people or living on your own, don’t believe the lie that scarcity wins, that you have to struggle in the cracks to find refreshment and life for your soul. True life and power are available to you, right now. It’s found in the breath of the One who created you. His breath gives life, abundantly. Receive and take hold of it as many times as you need. He promises to see you through.

“The Spirit of God has made me, And the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Job 33:4

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Ashlee Eiland
Ashlee Eiland, the author of Human(Kind): How Reclaiming Human Worth and Embracing Radical Kindness Will Bring Us Back Together (WaterBrook, 4/8/20), serves as the formation and preaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She shares God’s message of redemption and reconciliation at conferences, colleges, and events around the country. She began her professional career working for Nestlé USA and left corporate America to pursue full-time vocational ministry. Ashlee earned a BA in international relations from the University of Southern California and completed her master’s in organizational leadership at Judson University. Ashlee and her husband, Delwin, have three children and live in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For more information, visit her AshleeEiland.com and @ashlee_eiland.