This past season felt like an eternity. Not the season of summer, which passes all too quickly in northern climes, but rather this past season of life. Too often my cry, both to God and to the people around me, was, “I feel like I can’t breathe, like I’m drowning and there isn’t enough air.” Can’t breathe. Stuck, trapped, suffocating. It was one of those times in which everything – literally, everything – seemed to fall apart in every area of my life. Nothing felt secure. Truly, I think everyone has those moments or feelings or circumstances, yet the deepest lie is always that we are alone in our suffering. This is not the place for details, because those are no longer my focus, but you likely understand the niggling feelings of isolation and “drowning” from your own experiences. In my desperation all I could whisper to God was, “Hold me; I can’t breathe.”
In our thirst for adventure, our longing to fill the empty places inside ourselves, sometimes we turn to thrill for coping with what we cannot understand. We become thrill-seekers on the hunt for the next breath-stealing wonder. We actually seek out things that “take our breath away” because it gives a rush of pleasure, or adrenaline, or even a fleeting sense of hope. The truth of this thrill, though, is that after it steals our breath, it tends to leave us hollow, waiting for the next rush of a breathless moment.
Circumstances, situations, people, our own feelings – these can all steal our breath, be it for a moment that seems to hold awe or for a too-long stretch that leaves us suffocating. As I walked through my own season of breath-crushing moments – pain squeezing too tightly, panic weighing too heavily, and hopelessness too ready to take up residence – I began to recognize something utterly precious:
We are created for life, and life requires breath.
I was not made for breathless moments or having my “breath” stolen by fear or pain; I was made to breathe, freely and fully. Genesis 1 describes how God put His breath into mankind at the beginning of creation. Before God breathed His life into Adam, Adam was nothing more than dust, hollow and ready to be filled with what only God could give. Adam’s frame needed the breath of God in order to truly be alive. To be flesh and bones is not enough; we need the breath of life – physically, spiritually, and emotionally. You and I are designed for breath, dear hearts. It is part of who we are, yet too often we don’t notice this life-breath until we suddenly realize it is absent.
I couldn’t breathe emotionally or spiritually, and it’s terrifyingly amazing how that panicked desperation can trigger similar feelings in a physical body. I was looking for breath in all the wrong places, and in doing so tied my heart and mind to relationships, situations, and even roles that stole my breath. These ties seemed to steal my zeal to rise each new day to live and love well – to steal my very life. Suffocating.
Allow me to explain my three breath-stealers. Relationships can be the most agonizing and most subtle of these thieves. Please understand that a relationship (be it familial, romantic, friendly, or any other) need not be abusive in order to “steal” your breath. I say that relationships can be subtle in this way because you, like me, may have perfectly nice, well-meaning people in your life who are leeching slowly at the life-breath and passion you carry within you as the gift of the God who created you. These gifts are stolen through little compromises, through fear that says there may never be another relationship of this sort again, that you are not valuable or special enough to love or live any better. Relationships are glorious in that they allow for the intimacy of knowing and connecting, yet especially in romance it is critical to recognize where we might be stealing our own breath by remaining in unhealthy be-my-everything roles or by not allowing ourselves to be cared for. “Well, I can’t choose my family,” you may protest. Certainly, you do not choose the bloodline from which you come, but when you accept the overwhelming grace of Jesus Christ, you are given a new bloodline – a spiritual one – that is flawless and breath-giving. Marriage is sacred covenant between husband and wife, which is too easily put aside in the world today because people feel that their spouses are not fulfilling their needs – not giving them “breath,” so to speak. When we rely on any relationship to be a source of breath – or allow it to steal from the way God is calling us to live – we find ourselves in danger of either playing God or replacing God.
Situations that steal our breath – ah, why do we embrace the same options repeatedly and expect different results? That is the definition of insanity, yet we persist. Perhaps your breath-stealing situations were not your choice, being forced on you by the cruel, selfish choices of others (that is, by sin). Our breath is stolen when disappointment or pain creeps in: money once again not lasting until month’s end, the friend’s house in which you wish you never set foot, the same old story of being taken advantage of by those who know you’re too “kind” to deny them. Just one more problem, one more struggle to manage until it feels like dark water sucking us into the void. One of my greatest breath-stealers was my final example (examples become authentic when we’ve lived them!), in feeling intruded upon or taken advantage of by everyone from my closest loved ones to all the other random people who crossed my path. And this fits closely with the roles that I was permitting to steal my breath. Suffocating.
I like to care for everything and everyone – I am zealous about making certain all is well. When I fail to recognize my own desire to be needed, I easily find myself in roles where I am being exhausted in “do-gooding,” stealing my own breath in my quest to be the rescuer and meet every need. More, more, more; do, do, do. Yet for all my striving, my roles as rescuer or provider or daughter or anything else – these roles will steal my breath if I allow them to drag me away from the healthy parameters of grace that God sets. In the moments when my adopted notions of responsibility are crushing me, I remind myself of who God is: ‘“I, even I am the Lord, and beside me there is no savior”’ (Isaiah 43:11). This not only tells me who God IS but also who I am NOT. I am not the savior, the provider, the life-giver; those roles (and their responsibilities) belong to God alone. I am not the breath-giver.
There have been relationships that I needed to release because I was holding on, letting those relationships steal from my breath, crushing my zealous passion and the way God created me. These are not people I have stopped loving, but rather people whom I have allowed God to teach me to love differently, to love in such a way that I no longer seek them to fill all my needing for breath. Why would I deliberately choose any relationship that steals from my life breath, whether physically, spiritually, or emotionally? Or, perhaps better stated, why would I deliberately choose any relationship that does not give me breath? Why would I not choose to fill my life with people who are breath-giving to me, speaking truth and hope?
Relationships, circumstances, roles – in each of these areas we must guard against the temptation to either play God or replace God. Dear hearts, do not let others steal the breath God has given you. Guard your heart from small hope that would lead you to submit to circumstances. No matter how fortuitous – or disastrous – your current circumstances maybe be, they have no authority to steal your breath. Don’t give in to the lie that urges you to live one breathless moment to the next, that says panic or mania are the only options. Embrace the heights and depths and simply breathe. It is not your responsibility to be the breath for others. You may live well and love well, but know that ultimately only God is the Breath-Giver. Let Him do what only He can do. Breathe freely and fully, dear ones, and take courage.
Perhaps your heart is wailing, as mine was, “But I cannot breathe! My breath is gone.” Perhaps you don’t even have the breath left for such a wail. Suffocated. Dry. Lifeless. The question is, how do we recapture the breath? Perhaps you are like me. I didn’t know, after this long season, if I could breathe again. I felt hollow, void of life, void of breath. I couldn’t hide my numbness, my hollow nothingness. Could I breathe again?
“Prophesy to the breath, son of man.”
These are the words that flooded my mind. “Prophesy to the breath.” Those words – I knew those words. Ezekiel, chapter 37:1-14, in which God takes the prophet Ezekiel in a vision-dream to look upon a valley full of dry bones:
“Then He caused me to pass by them all around,
and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry.”
So very dry – oh, Lord, we are so very, very dry. I am just dust; I am undone.
‘And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
So I answered, “O God, You know.”’
Can they? Can these bones live? Because I don’t know. But You do.
‘Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord God to these bones:
“Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live.
I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live.
Then you shall know that I am the Lord.”’”
Is it so? Can there be life from this death, breath into the void?
“So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I did, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone-to-bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them.”
Without breath, there is no life. All the proper components are there, but there remains only one Breath-Giver.
‘Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”’ So I prophesied as He commanded me. And breath came into them, and they lived, and they stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.”’
Lord, breathe on us, for indeed, we are dry bones without the Breath of your Spirit. Sons of man – children of dust, yet chosen by You. Are we forgotten? Are we too dry, drier than these? Is there hope for us?
Such sentiments as these were what God’s people were wailing: dry bones, lost hope, cut off, abandoned (v. 12) – utterly breathless. But God was not finished; their story was not over – this was the message given through Ezekiel:
‘“I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,” says the Lord.’
So I, too, will prophesy to the breath. I can be no one’s breath, not even my own, but I shall prophesy to it. I will speak to the breath in those around me, for I know the One who alone gives Breath. I will speak life to the dry places, because I know Jesus is Life (John 10:10, 11:25, 14:6). How will you prophesy to the breath today, sons and daughters? What places in and around you are dry and lifeless? Where do you need breath? Whatever may have stolen your breath – be it relationship, circumstance, or role – you have the power to speak life. Prophesy to the breath, brave ones, prophesy, for you know the Giver of Breath.
You are created for life. Don’t go another day breathless.