In Missouri, you never know what September might bring. It’s that weird transition period between seasons; warm days gradually give way to cooler nights. This year, however, September brought a heatwave. Just as people were turning their sights and activities toward Fall, near-record highs brought sweltering, sweaty, stifling summer right back into their faces. I must admit, the heatwave made me miserable. I was cranky, snappish, tired, and unmotivated. I wanted to be outside, hiking and walking and just enjoying Fall. Instead, I was holed up inside our house which, in spite of air conditioning, was warm and humid, too. I could have gone outside. I could have gone hiking and walking. But, I chose not to because, quite frankly, I was tired of being hot.
Hot dry winds blew all day yesterday, banging our back screen door open and shut, open and shut. A cold front was pushing the winds, and overnight the cold front forced the heat south and ushered in some truly Fall-inspired temperatures. Standing outside as I waited with my boys for their school bus, I closed my eyes and turned my face to the cool breeze. And then, I exhaled.
As I stood basking in the glory of Fall, a weight seemed to lift from my spirit. Summer (fingers crossed) had gone. The Earth exhaled, and beauty and peace fell upon us.
Lately, I’ve been talking to a lot of people who are struggling to exhale. Many of us are in places in our lives where we just hold our breath. We hold our breath as we push through our overextended schedules. Get the kids to school, go to work, get the kids to an activity, go to the grocery store, get the kids to bed, go do laundry…The litany of busyness leaves no time to exhale.
Others hold their breath waiting for healing. An unexpected diagnosis leads to doctor’s appointments, therapy sessions, medicine regimens, and uncertainty about the future. The pain and unknown path ahead leaves no time to exhale.
Still others hold their breath through emotional upheaval. Changing relationships, anxiety over loved ones, loss, and sometimes betrayal cause us to hold onto worry, doubt, and anger. Juggling these emotions leaves no time to exhale.
I think our nation is in a state of holding its breath, too. Healthcare costs are rising. Violence seems to be increasing. The gap between rich and poor is widening. Ineffective national leaders offer nothing but divisiveness, bringing out the worst in our human nature. We go from one national disaster to the next: fires, volcanoes, hurricanes, and floods. The constant state of chaos leaves no time to exhale.
The problem with holding our breath is that we keep all of the negativity within. We internalize the sorrow, the fear, the anger, and the frustration until it becomes our entire world. We become trapped within ourselves, within the negativity of our own emotions. We become hardened and cynical, unable to see or experience the beauty of life around us.
My friends, this is not the life God wants for us. God doesn’t want us to just hold our breaths. Rather, he wants us to exhale, for when we exhale, we push out all of the negative and leave room for his life-giving Spirit.
God wants to cleanse us with his Spirit, but we can’t experience that cleansing of the soul if we’re holding our breath. We need to exhale. We need to exhale the constant need to go, go, go. We need to exhale the fear of the unknown. We need to exhale the worst case scenarios of our lives. We need to exhale our fear of failure. We need to exhale all of the hurt that’s been heaped upon us. We need to exhale our sorrow and despair. We need to exhale the anger and resentment we’ve nurtured by holding on too long. We need to exhale mistrust and cynicism. We need to exhale self-doubt and self-consciousness. We need to exhale the desire for more, more, more. We need to exhale.
We each exhale in different ways using different methods. The key to exhaling is to be mindful of the practice. Find a quiet place and still your mind. Focus on your spirit. Invite God to show you the places inside yourself where you’re holding your breath. Then, ask God to help you exhale. Some people find it helpful to utter a meditative chant. As you exhale, say “I release _____”.
After you exhale, consciously fill your lungs to mass capacity and imagine yourself breathing in the Holy Spirit. Picture God’s Spirit moving from your lungs throughout your body–into your limbs, your fingers, your toes, your head. Again, some find a meditative chant useful. As you breathe in, you might say, “I breathe in _____”.
Take some time to exhale this week. Slow down, be conscious of your breath, and make room for the Holy Spirit.
Blessings and Peace,