There are some expressions in the modern, American version of the English language that have been mulling around in my mind. They have to do with the most basic, yet vital of human functions: breathing.
When breathing in, air journeys into the mouth and nostrils, travels through the open epiglottis, and down the larynx. It fills the lungs and enlivens every part of the body.
Breathing is extremely important, even though, for the most part, it's effortless. It is one of the few functions of the body that can be done without thinking. It can even be done while one is sleeping.
Breathing is a true work of art. There are a few verbal expressions in our language that each have their own emotion attached to them. Funny enough, each verbal expression about breathing is made possible by breathing. Let's explore them one by one.
First, we have the expression, “Hold your breath.” When someone uses this expression they are describing a moment full of anticipation or uncertainty. Like last night, as we were watching some NCAA March Madness Basketball, my wife said she kept finding herself “holding her breath” as U of A was playing. This expression describes a stressful thing that is usually done during a stressful situation. Or at least when the expression is used it is describing a moment of stress.
I have been familiar with stressful situations lately, and though I haven't been holding my breath literally, I feel fatigued as though I have been.
Next we have, “A breath of fresh air.” We do not normally think of the expression, “A breath of fresh air” as stressful, but consider this. The moment of breathing fresh air is nice and noticeable because the moment leading up to that moment must not have been fresh. And if it is truly just a breath, then it does not last long. This expression is not as stressful as, “hold your breath,” but there is a stress all around it. Yet, moving from “hold your breath” to “a breath of fresh air” acknowledges a shift taking place. A pleasant, refreshing, hopeful shift so tangible you can feel it in your lungs.
I have experienced this in a couple different ways of late. I have a co-worker that has been a breath of fresh air to me. Working with him has brought ease to my work because it seems like we see both what is and what could be very similarly. I have also experienced a breath of fresh air because my family is two days into our weeklong vacation in California. Taking time to be away from the norm of home, work, and routine always brings fresh moments and perspective.
“A sigh of relief” is the next expression. It is also the next step of de-stressing. The sigh of relief comes after a stressful situation has come to an end. In an extreme example, I have been reading a book called “Eragon.” In the book, a young man finds a dragon and it propells him into a life of intense battles with the roughest of beasts relentlessly chasing him. At one point he finds solace in a fortress underground and he is able to eat, rest, and sleep without danger. The safe fortress causes him to let it a sigh of relief.
My sighs of relief often come as I sit and watch the sunset. The setting sun, in all of its expanse and beauty daily, reminds me of a creative God. It also reminds me that there is a beginning and end to everything. No matter how hard I try, I cannot extend the days and I cannot avoid the reality of death. The only thing I can do is put myself in the hands of the God who made the beauty of the sunset. When I mentally do this, I find God’s grandeur far outweighs any and all of my seemingly potent problems. It is in this moment of worship my soul lets out a sigh of relief.
What sparked all of this thinking about breathing took place as we were somewhere in the untamed, rugged Arizona desert. Brit was driving, my girls were listening to music, and I noticed myself doing “a great, big exhale.” I am not sure what exactly brought it on, but it was full and powerful. It could be that I knew Jesus was with me. It could be that my family was safe and sound and with me. It could be the confidence I have in our team at work that is poised and ready to cover for me and conquer new ground in my absence. Or it could be the fact that I get to be married to Brittany, which makes me feel like my life has already been an enormous success.
Whatever it may be, in this moment right now, my body has decided to let out a great, big exhale.