Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Nehemiah: Taking Deep Breaths

As I have journeyed through the book of Nehemiah, one theme that really stuck out to me is about breathing. It is interesting that this is one that sticks out to me, because it is not really something that is a transparent theme. There are obvious themes about following the will of God, about gaining encouragement from the ways He has blessed you in the past, about how to be a good leader, about community and how to build it, even parenting advice. But God is so good to use his word to meet you where you are, and to let it come alive through the lens of your experiences. And because breathing itself was a struggle for me in the last 6 months, like never before, I know God just knew I needed these nuggets about breathing.
Even now, but especially while there were six small children in my care, there were times during my day when I felt my heart start racing, I would literally have to remind myself to take deep breaths. Like literal, life sustaining breaths. Sometimes it came in a panic about what was coming next for our family or about not knowing how to "help" others. Many times my breath would just be threatened by the pure busy-ness of running from one child or activity to the next. I would get so busy just "doing" that I would forget to do what should be most intrinsic...breathe.

It sounds crazy that something I do not even remember learning to do- taking breaths- could suddenly be challenged. But maybe in the chaos of your life, you’ve faced such moments, too. If so, I would love to share this with you. Not because it is Earth shattering or because it comes from any depth of theological experience. Simply because it was given as a very sweet gift to me when I needed it most, and I’d love to share a piece of it with someone else. It’s the only way I know to repay all He continues to bless me with…pour it out.

1) In Nehemiah Chapter 2, Nehemiah is faced with both an opportunity of a lifetime and also one of the most difficult positions he has ever been in. As cupbearer to the King, he is in a unique position to enjoy the King's attention frequently. When Nehemiah finds out about the great need of his people, he knows it is his calling to go back and lead them. Only one problem, he needs the favor of the King. As he stands before the King, it is actually the King who notices his demeanor has changed and asks Nehemiah "What is it you want?" In that instant Nehemiah says "I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king..." (2:5). I love this because the punctuation of the sentence leads me to read it as only a short pause between the prayer to God and the answer to the king. Nehemiah didn't run off to his room to pray before answering the King, it is like his prayer is simply the inhale before the exhale of his words. Standing right there, in the midst of his personal "chaos" he just breathes prayer. It couldn't have been long, it couldn't have been one in which he was too deliberate about his words, it had to just be like a quick flood of the Spirit. A deep breath- a breath full of life sustaining Spirit.

2) In the prayer of the Israelites in Chapter 9...the whole prayer is amazing, but a favorite part for me is at the beginning...its an often heard theme throughout scripture, but it just struck me differently as I've been re-learning to breathe. "You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you" (chpt 9:6b) Again- because of the way the sentence reads, I really see it as an inhale/exhale sentence.

Lord, as I breathe in the life you provide- the literal oxygen you gave us, using the lungs you created, passing energy through the blood that flows intricately through give me life. And as I result, in the exhale, I'll worship you.

The very way I breathe changes when I recognize and praise where the breath comes from.
So many times over the last months, I've found myself washing dishes, putting clothes in the washing machine, disciplining children, thinking about our family craziness...and just start breathing prayer. I don't stop doing what I'm doing or speaking what I'm speaking, I don't have time to. My INHALE (both literally and figuratively) has to come from the Lord and the exhale is the action of service, the praise of the Lord, the simple daily tasks. I breathe deeper and fuller knowing that the life comes from him and as a result the exhale is full of peace, and is calming. Granted...sometimes it takes a WHOLE LOT of forced breaths before the air becomes more natural to take in. Sometimes the inhales have to happen in a quiet room by myself. Sometimes I wish I had a rewind to redo the "toxic" breathing I let myself slip into. But slowly, I am learning...
Inhale prayer.Exhale action.Inhale life.Exhale praise.Inhale.Exhale.

Its like an exercise, something I have to remind myself to do.
The recognition of "inhale then exhale" makes me pause before exhaling (or acting). It helps me remember to think before I act or speak and also to remember that I can only do one thing at a time, take care of one child at a time, tackle one difficult task at a time. Only one direction/action per exhale. One breath at a time.

If you spent much time with me when my nieces and nephews were with us, you may have physically noticed this in me. I literally found myself having to take forced deep breaths to do simple things like focus or communicate with others. You may have literally been able to see and hear my chest heave huge inhales, my eyes may have squinted a bit as I tried to let the fullness of life in. It was intentional, yet difficult. It should have been natural, yet it was challenged. I believe the stress of life can have very physical implications for our bodies. BUT I also believe that the Lord can take those very same physical strains and out of them bring a deeper reliance and understanding of the fullness of life He provides. I know he communicated deeply with me as I struggled to breathe. And in so doing, taught me to breathe in a way I’ve never experienced.  For each of those deep, visible breaths, there was a prayer, a praise, a basking in the knowledge that HE controlled our craziness.

And so in the craziness I enjoyed the deep breaths.  Full. Deep. Intentional.  Full of His Spirit.

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