Learning to Exhale

“You know what you need to do? Just give it to God.”

I’ve been a Christian for over 25 years and in ministry for 12 of them. And even though it may be a tad embarrassing, I have to admit: I’m not sure what that means.

When I’ve heard people espouse this particular kernel of Christian wisdom, it always sounded like such a peaceful, easy process. You worried? Confused? Stressed? Angry? — Just give it all to God. Like it’s as simple as blowing bubbles in your backyard and watching them float away.

Perhaps the reason that I’ve never gotten the idea is that “giving something to God” has never been an easy process for me. It’s not been simple. Letting go of the deep things – hurt, fear, anger, doubt – has never been peaceful. It’s often a painful and violent process (emotionally & spiritually).

So when others would encourage me – just give it all to God – I would nod in (fake) deep, spiritual agreement. And then go on thinking I was just doing it wrong.

Here’s what encourages me, though: one of the most common types of psalm in the Bible is lament. Amongst all the songs of praise, worship & thanksgiving are tons of pain and angst. And when these writers give it to God, they really GIVE IT to God. It’s often very direct and accusatory. They question God and his intentions. And it’s not always pretty.

I’ve dealt with asthma my entire life. It’s a scary feeling not being able to breathe. What most people don’t understand about asthma is that the problem isn’t just an inability to get enough air. During an attack it’s just as much a struggle to exhale as it is to inhale. The tendency is to panic and not properly breathe out enough to breath in the proper amount of oxygen.

When I was in elementary school I took a class on how to deal with my asthma. Looking back, most of it was common sense. But I still remember this lesson: Don’t panic. You have to breathe out before you can breathe in.

I feel like many of us have spiritual asthma. We hold onto those ugly parts of life – fear, confusion, stress, doubt, anger – and act like we’ve got it all under control. All the while these feelings do war inside of us. And instead of really expressing these difficult feelings, we give each other platitudes – just give it all to God. We try to praise when we really need to help one another lament.

And it gets harder and harder to breathe in because we never really breathe out.

Because here’s the important thing about those lament psalms — all that pain and angst
always leads to assurance in God’s goodness. It’s not that the problems disappear, but even in the act of expressing our fears we are led to hope. By breathing out our doubts we can breathe in greater faith.

We need to get more comfortable with lament – even when it’s ugly and doesn’t seem very “spiritual”. We all feel these things at times. When life gets hard and easy answers evade us, let’s help each other find words of lament rather than simple platitudes.

We need to learn to exhale. Because otherwise we’ll slowly suffocate.

Do you ever feel like you really lament? What does it look like for you?

4 thoughts on “Learning to Exhale

  1. Great post! Even if I may be a bit prejudicial, afterall, I am your mom. I can remember sitting with you when you were little and in the midst of an attack. I would lightly rub your back in a circle while we inhaled and exhaled together. Maybe that is a pattern with God, also. He gently soothes our spirit as He rubs our backs, calming us as we exhale those troubles and inhale His Spirit, a way of reminding us He is right there with us. Please excuse me while I go exhale some so I can inhale more deeply.

    • I remember you doing the same & it’s a pretty good picture of the way God treats us. He often sits with us as we vent or pout while saying, “I know. I understand.” And while our circumstances may not always change the way we want, our attitudes and approach to these tough times does. I don’t think our need to lament bothers God at all – he just wants to sit with us through it.

  2. Oh. My. Word. Deborah. You’re officially adopted as my mom. Again. 😉

    Allen, I loved your post. I struggled with asthma as a kid too, not as much as an adult, but I know the panic of trying to breath, both physically and spiritually. The lament has it’s place and I’ve never quite thought about it like your beautiful description. I try to focus on the praise, and NEVER tell people to “Give it to God”, but I admit that I’ve been afraid of lamenting. Really it’s the fear of lamenting alone or being judged for not praising God in the storm. I seem to have a lot of storms. You are right:

    “-all that pain and angst always leads to assurance in God’s goodness. It’s not that the problems disappear, but even in the act of expressing our fears we are led to hope. By breathing out our doubts we can breathe in greater faith.”

    Brilliant! 🙂

    • I think you really hit on a huge fear – lamenting alone. It keeps us from truly expressing our pain & fear. We fear each other’s judgement during these times. We fear being labeled as one without enough faith. I think often God is way more ok with our lament than our fellow Christians.

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