Why Are We Telling Each Other to Breathe?

The first time I remember telling someone to breathe I was following the teenage son of a friend being wheeled into the emergency room several hundred miles away from his family.

I was on staff at a camp and Wesley was playing 3 on 3 basketball. The competition was physical between the older teens, all of them 6′ and more. Wes and an opponent went up for the ball when the other guy fell down on top of Wesley’s foot. His 6′ 3 frame crumpled to the ground.

The hospital was in a nearby town. It was an agonizing ride for Wesley. He was placed on a cart to wheel him into the ER. He bent over his foot holding it in silent agony. I realized in his pain he was holding his breath and I said firmly, yet as calmly as I could, “Breathe, Wesley”.

Today we see that word on memes, mugs and T-shirts. We have it on our phones. We choose it as our word for the year. Breathe

My cousin gave me this necklace as a reminder

My cousin and I have been texting it, writing it and saying it to each other for a few years now.

Why do we have to tell each other to do something we’re already doing? We are all breathing or we wouldn’t be alive.

Just like I noticed Wesley holding his breath when he was suffering we hold our breaths in a figurative sense.

Grief cripples us and our breath becomes shallow. We are trying to hold back the pain.

A hurricane demolishes a community and the effects continue long after the rest of the country has forgotten. Our breathing becomes angry gasps.

Divorce, job loss, miscarriage, empty nest…..they take our breath away. We gulp for air to stay alive but we aren’t breathing in real life-giving breath.

And we say to ourselves and to one another, “breathe“.

To do this we have to loosen our grip around the pain.

Wesley’s pain didn’t go away until he got medical attention. Some of us might need to start with appropriate medication to help us loosen our grip on what’s holding us.

When Beki tells me to breathe I know the she means slow down. Be in the here and now. Stop thinking about the what ifs and what was and what should be. Stop thinking about the unknowns and start with slowing down my mind. When I do that my breath follows and they are in rhythm together. 

The thing I’ve learned is I have to repeat this day after day. My mind is ready to race away with anxiety and worry. When it became overwhelming I sought professional help. While that has brought some relief, it doesn’t release me from needing to create practices that will help my mind and breath find a healthy rhythm.

I often find that healthy pace in the creative process. I read, journal, spend time with people who are healthy and not afraid to remind me to breathe when they see me gasping. I have faith in a God who loves me and restores my breath.

As my son has reminded me, let people help you. It’s how God has always worked in my life – through the hearts and hands of others.

Breathe, friends. Breath in deeply and exhale peace.

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