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Breathe out me – Breathe in You

Breathe in – breathe out. So automatic. So natural. So necessary. If you stop, you’re done.

I’m indebted to Ciona Rouse (The Upper Room Magazine May-June 2013, pg. 40-42) who suggests using “breathe in-breathe out” as a prayer during her running. The extra exertion tuned her into her breathing, which she adapted in praying John 3:30. She breathes in “more of You, Lord” on the inhale and breathes out “less of me” on the exhale. A natural rhythm.

What’s more natural than breathing? I thought.

What’s more natural than praying? I thought.

It sounded like a simple way to invite prayer into my active life. But when I tried it, it spoke way more than simple. Here’s what I have learned so far:

  1. The natural rhythm begins with breathe in, but if you first breathe out “less of me,” you make room to breathe in the “more of you, Lord.” Emphasize the less-of-you. Yup!
  2. As your effort increases, perhaps as you trudge up an incline, you emphasize the exhale and shorten the inhale….less of me…less of me…Time is short to draw in the quick breath of God. Your inspirations change with the terrain. Go figure!
  3. As you crest the hill or cruise into the finish, your inspirations deepen. Your body intuitively recovers from the oxygen debt it’s been in by breathing in deeply. The view from the top or the finish line invokes inspiration. Of course!
  4. Patterned breathing as a prayer isn’t just limited to running. You can walk it, climb it, cycle it, swim it.
  5. It also comes in handy moment to moment. Say, in a tense moment. Breeeaaaattthhhhhe Me in. And breathe out you. I can do this when someone else exercises my patience. A weapon to be wielded in my own self defense. Don’t hold your breath. Breathe.

Isn’t it cool that God designed us with a mechanism to adapt our breath to our needs? Even our need of Him? That a stretch sensor in our lungs and a carbon dioxide monitor in our brains are part of our blueprint. Fully engaged we can adapt the rhythm and depth of our breath to the needs of our life – moment by moment.

Oh, we can override this system, for sure.

  • We can hold our breath till we’re “blue in the face” just to make our point.
  • We can hyperventilate in preparation for a longer breath-holding session, tricking the self-monitoring system into delaying our “need to breathe.”
  • We can blow into a paper bag, re-breathing carbon dioxide, to calm our anxious hyperventilation.

Yes, for our own ends, we can recalibrate our design. Even our internal reflexes are subject to our free will. Sounds very familiar. But what an amazingly simple system. Inspiration, supplying our needs. Expiration, expelling our waste.

Less of me.
More of you, Lord.
Repeat.
Amen.

When will God say breathe?

My recent excursion into the MRI tunnel still has me recalling the voice ‘from the outside’ saying..

“Hold your breath…” whhhiiiirrrrrrr, ratatatatatata…

“Breathe.”

Oh, it felt good to let go of that breath.

While I was waiting, I was totally focused on one thing: taking my next breath. Being the rule-following type, it did not occur to me to cheat or sneak in a breath while she wasn’t looking. I was gonna do it or die trying.

But this did bring to mind days gone past, (I’ve written a bit about it here) when we had a competition on the swim team for how far we could swim underwater. This was supposed to inspire us (pardon the pun) to push ourselves in training. To hold our breath a bit longer, because breathing slowed you down. The one who took the fewest breaths usually made it to the finish line first.

Well, there is a trick to this one of the older swimmers showed us. If you hyperventilate first, that is, if you take a lot of quick, shallow breaths, you can “blow off” carbon dioxide and trick your body into keeping quiet about that old breathing thing. Later, as a physiologist I learned and then taught students that this practice actually fools your brain’s internal breathing centers into thinking you don’t have to breathe yet. This is a bit of a dangerous practice. However, once you pass out, your body comes to your rescue and makes you breathe.

But today this has me wondering whether this isn’t often my approach to life. To hyperventilate, gasping the full volume of air because I can hold my breath longer. Does the force of my life silence my body’s signal to breathe? Is finishing first really worth it?

Rest Easy…Really???

Rest Easy. Sounds inviting doesn’t it?

But wait. Let me secure your arms at your sides on this rolling stretcher and slide you into a cold metal tube that is inches from your face. Oh, and then let me turn on the intermittent jack-hammers. “See you in about two hours,” they tell me. Glad I am not claustrophobic. But still.

And still, am I. The one thing they do give you for distraction is head phones into which they pipe “your choice” of music. They used to give you three radio stations from which to choose. Now, they have Sirius radio. So I have chosen The Message. A Christian station. This is what plays in my car most of the time. That ‘most’ defined by whomever is in my passenger seat. When I am alone, that’s what’s playing.

I must say here that I really don’t listen to what’s on the radio. I hear it and I feel it. Sometimes I bee bop a bit to it (don’t mention this to my children) but I don’t really listen. Listening, to me, would mean I am paying attention to the words. In this case the lyrics. Music does not often grab my attention this way. Auditory attention is on down the list of my strong suits.

But, as I am strapped into this contraption, I am considering the concerns about my heart function. Concerns, heck, I am terrified about what diagnosis might come and what it might mean to my lifestyle and life-direction from here. And all of a sudden, they place the headphones over my ears and I am listening, not just hearing, but listening to the song on The Message. Like I’ve never heard it before. It’s Andrew Peterson’s, Rest Easy, from his new Album: Light for the Lost Boy

Here it is for your reading (and listening) pleasure.

Andrew Peterson – Rest Easy Lyrics

Listen while you read!

You are not alone
I will always be with you
Even to the end

You don’t have to work so hard
You can rest easy
You don’t have to prove yourself
You’re already mine
You don’t have to hide your heart
I already love you
I hold it in mine
So you can rest easy

Do not be afraid
Nothing, nothing in the world
Can come between us now

You don’t have to work so hard
You can rest easy
You don’t have to prove yourself
You’re already mine
You don’t have to hide your heart
I already love you
I hold it in mine
So you can rest easy

You work so hard to wear yourself down
And you’re running like a rodeo clown
You’re smiling like you’re scared to death
You’re out of faith and all out of breath
You’re so afraid you’ve got nowhere left to go

Well, you are not alone
I will always be with you

You don’t have to work so hard
You can rest easy
You don’t have to prove yourself
You’re already mine
You don’t have to hide your heart
I already love you
I hold it in mine
You can rest easy

I wish I could say I heard this and all was peaceful and quiet and calm. No. But rest did come easy then. I guess it was “my kind of rest.” The kind where the mind starts to wander, roving through memory and imagination. Thoughts of life moments and specific prayers gave way to physical sensation lending itself to the battle at hand. Inspirations held became chest shields. The MRI coil itself a chest plate that warms the heart. Finally, the “hold your breath” then “and breathe” became a training event. A series of 25 meter sprints.

I knew this from so many swim practices. Closing in on the far wall you are stroking hard, your chest about to burst, but you must make it. Whoosh. Your hand touches the stucco of the wall and you rake your head out of the water to gasp for air. Chest heaving. Inspiring. Gratifying air. You climb out, take your mark and do it again.

I could see my little 8 year old self, competing to see how many of these I could do without taking a breath. This was an event for which I had prepared. In this, for me, came ‘rest easy.’ “We’ve got this.”

I didn’t realize until later that the endurance event at the end was intended by the technician. She, on the other side of the microphone and outside the thickened walls of the MRI room, had gotten word that my scans were clear and I could tolerate the “breathing challenges.” This would speed my heart rate and thus the speed at which the images could be collected. I was actually sprinting to the finish and did not know it. I was, in fact, fit to finish fast. Go figure. The work of my heart and my life would resume just as it was with my business, Fit2Finish. (www.Fit2Finish.com)

Whether my heart was fit for the event before I went in the evil cylinder or it became so by prayer and pleading while I was inside, I don’t know. Won’t ever know. But I’m grateful. I’m wondering what endurance event God has planned for me next. But, for now, I am resting easy.

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