Learning to Breathe Again
I wonder how many of you would understand what I mean when I say there are seasons of life when it seems you cannot take a full breath. There are times when you are reluctant to move too quickly or look up too hastily for fear that the fragile balance of your life will shatter. And there are days in which you feel an ever present dread that the walls are about to crumble; the rug about to be pulled from beneath your feet.
Those who understand what I’m talking about are no doubt those of you who have been hurt before. And those of you who know how quickly life can change and how devastating those changes can be. You’ve spent nights on the cold floors of this world. You’ve experienced days and weeks beneath a lifeless, colorless sun. When those nights and those seasons are over, there seems to remain a lingering dread. There seems a persistent fear that one day… any day… you may be forced into another episode of agony. So now, even though you may be in a time of reprieve, a moment of relative peace and beauty, the dread–the fear of loss–continually threatens to overwhelm. It suffocates joy; it mitigates the beauty that surrounds you.
In the next month or so our family is about to experience a change. This change, we hope, will multiply our joy and our love. Around this time next month we’re expecting the addition of a baby girl. As I arrange the nursery and wash the tiny sleepers and socks, the joy and hope in my heart is daily intertwined with unwelcome fear.
You see, this will not be the first daughter I’ve held. It won’t be the first little girl I’ve cherished. The last time I held a daughter of my own she was passing from me into the arms of Heaven. Having loved and been powerless to keep, there remains imprinted in my soul, whether rational or irrational, the dread of further love and repeated loss: a fear brought painfully into the open by my six-year-old son who asked me recently in a moment of quietness, “Do you think this girl will live?”
Do I think she will live? There is no sugary way to address this. I was looking into the face of a boy who, like me, was not ignorant of death. He was not a boy unaware of the contrast between fairy tales and reality. We know too much. We’ve seen too much and have lost too much. So he dares to ask the question that sits silent but ever present at the base of my heart, “Will she live?”
Fear Through Life’s Seasons
Though the question that sits deep at the center of your heart may be different than mine, I imagine there is one. “Will the cancer return?” “Will I have to watch my child decline year after year?” “Will I be forced back into that horrible situation again?”
There the question sits. Unmovable, unchanging; and thus, the seasons without a full, deep breath. Thus the days and weeks and months of dread… of waiting, of fearing to look tomorrow in the eye. But oh, are we truly to live like this? Are we truly to sit back and let the stings and pains of yesterday lap up the beauty–however small or great–of today? Are we to refuse to embrace fully whatever meager offering of joy this day has to offer? Ought I recoil or lean more fully into the embrace of my youngest daughter? Can I truly live half loving and half fearing? Can you?
Having spent many days pondering and praying over these questions, God has led me more and more into the realizations that there is simply no comfort to be found in building barriers of research and statistics. I can spend my evenings running numbers, reading articles, and talking with experts and I can make an artificial shelter for my heart–going over and over how “unlikely” a repeat loss would be. I can dive into the world of theories and percentages until I am waist deep in probability; but I still will not have removed the lead-like question that weighs down heavy within my heart, “Will she live? Will I love and lose?” Because the truth is, great fear demands great certainty.
Unshakeable questions require unshakeable answers, and no one can look me in the eyes and tell me she will live. There is no research article, no statistical calculation that will make me that promise. So the question, regardless of however deep I dig, remains implacable. The possibility will always be there. The same is true for you, and I know you know this. All the numbers and ratios in the world are of no comfort when you have been forced to be the one in a million.
So what then are we to do? Where is our comfort? How are we to learn to fully breathe? Again and again, I am forced to realize the only comfort that truly quiets my soul is truth as firmly fixed as my fear. The truth that doesn’t go by percentages, that doesn’t alter. It is the truth that meets my fear toe-to-toe and does not blink, unchanging truth about the Unchanging One.
So where do I go to overwhelm the fear that threatens to overwhelm me? I go to the truth that God is my Shepherd, the truth that God is good. I bring before my heart the fact that God is sovereign, that God is wise. And I take up with both hands the reality that God is not indifferent to my suffering. He is not unmoved by my past. The truth of Who my God is and what He is like is the only antidote I have ever found to shift that weighty dread of the future.
When the fear arises and I turn to look upon my Shepherd fully… When I spend an evening looking deeply into what God’s love, His power, His compassion implies… It is those nights that I learn to breathe again. As I read slowly through Psalms 23 or listen carefully to His voice in John 13-17, as I watch Him place Himself on the cross, beholding His agony on my behalf, it is then that I can say, “A shepherd so caring, a Savior so invested… what have I to fear?
If there is sorrow ahead, if there is pain before me I know it will not come through indifference. It will not be a matter of chance. My days, my sorrows are laid out for me by He Who loves me best and will be ordered for my good. There will be nothing ahead that I will have to endure alone. Because of His sufficient grace there is nothing I will be ill-equipped to face, nothing that will have the power to truly crush me.”
When I bask in the truth of the nature of my God and His promises to me, I dare to face tomorrow. The immovable question of whether or not she will live becomes immaterial. I have no answer, but I need none. The matter rests in the hands of my Beloved. I dare to love fully regardless of the pain it may cost and I dare savor the bits of beauty. I dare to give thanks for present joys and I dare to whisper again and again, “Thy will–good Father–Thy will be done.”
We must never lose sight of the fact that fear, deep fear, demands guarantees. It can’t be struck down with probabilities and chance statistics. Don’t fight on those grounds. Don’t seek to find a full breath through such futile remedies. Fight fear with truth. Fight fear with certainties and fight fear by looking into the true face of your Father. Spend your evenings before Him not before a computer… Fight fear with promises not probabilities. We may never shake the questions from within our hearts. But we can learn to breathe, to rest, and to cherish in spite of fear.
If you are seeking support through prayer, please visit our Prayers for You page. We invite you to allow us to pray for you… for your heartache, for your family, for your future or whatever is pressing down on your soul today.