I have a memory of my sister that I’ll never forget. We were sitting together in our parents’ brown 1980-something Caravan, and she began to gasp for air and after a moment of hysteria, she regained composure and stated, “Oh yeah, I forgot to breathe.”
That scared me a bit, and I’ve since reflected on that moment because I find it fascinating that something so essential — the taking in of air into the lungs — could be short-circuited. It is a life function we don’t often think about until it is missing. If forgetting to breathe is possible, what other essential things are we missing in life?
More recently, I was able to visit a Christian spiritual director. If you haven’t visited a person with this profession, their job is to help you along in your spiritual journey. I had no prior knowledge of how this would work, but I was excited to enter the process since I had worked pretty hard the previous five years and was feeling a bit dry. When I entered the session, worship music was softly playing, an icon of the Trinity (God the father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit) sat on a table and a candle was lit. We sat on opposite couches and introduced ourselves to each other.
Very quickly, I was directed to spend some time in silence prior to beginning our conversation. I believe it was about 10 minutes, and this is where my spirit wandered. First, I started to pray, “Lord, Lord …” and then I trailed off. I felt blocked. This is something I’ve dealt with in my prayer life for the past six months. I’ve felt so distracted I can barely find words that fit my experience to tell God my celebrations, my sins, my thankfulness, intercessions and supplications. I have been so dry I barely knew where to go.
After the time ended, we talked and I mentioned how I felt. I assessed where I’d come from and where I was going. I recalled a pastor who had lost his ability to speak because he’d been so busy. The prescription was to go to a monastery for a month and stay away from work. My spiritual director gave me the name of a monastery I could visit as needed, and she recommended I find times of peace and quietness.
As I write this I now recall a pastor charged with evaluating my extroverted personality. He had said, “Remember that to you, keeping the Sabbath in your way will be really important.” I realize that, but I hardly follow through.
My spiritual director and I hugged, which was strangely more powerful than usual, and I left feeling refreshed. My homework would be to make myself a Sabbath.
Even the busiest, most “important” people in the world, with high-functioning professional, extroverted tendencies, need rest. Constant pings from technology make this harder and harder.
In the Harvard Business Review article, “The Case for Slacking Off,” Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries quoted a company executive who testified to the need of not making yourself crazy by responding to constant emails: “I am not paid for doing this kind of work. If I’m so busy doing what people expect me to do, there will be no time left for what I ought to do. You can’t do creative work at a cyber pace. Creative work has its traditional rhythms. To be creative, you need to possess a more serene state of mind. Over the years I have learned the hard way that technology sometimes encourages people to confuse busyness with effectiveness. I need quiet time to be able to function.”
In our spiritual lives, this is even more important.
When the prophet Elijah was running for his life, he holed up in a mountain where he was told by the word of God to stand at attention, and he would have a meeting with God there. In 1 Kings 19, it records that a hurricane wind came, and then an earthquake hit, and God was not in those, then a fire arose, and God was not in it either. Eventually, a quiet whisper spoke to him, he muffled his cloak over his face, and he listened. Elijah could have continued to run from those who wanted him to die, but he waited for God in that place.
We all need to stop, put away our distractions, especially during Christmastime, and learn how to breathe in God’s presence. Elijah heard a still small voice, and in the quietness, we can be given wisdom and be refreshed too.