Lately, it has begun the minute I get up in the morning. I turn on my iPod for background music as I wipe away the bleary-eyed remnants of sleep, attempting to get my head and my thoughts in the right place. It’s worship music – instrumental or vocal – and as I hear the words I do feel more focused. I feel awake and alive. I remember what this life of mine is all about, and I am ready to start the day.
Before long, the cat calls from the hallway. I hear rustling through the baby-monitor, indicating that my three year old is waking up. Soon I hear her call for me from upstairs, and then a whole new level of struggle begins. It’s not just a struggle of wills, as one might suspect with a preschooler. (Though yes….that much is true, too.) It’s something else…something almost imperceptible until it’s over. We get her dressed and fed and into the car, ready for school. I turn on the music to help ease my nerves during the thirty-minute drive to her preschool and I drop her off. I turn up the music since I’m alone again, and I sing as loudly as I want. If boredom sets in from the radio station’s selections, I change it. I put in a CD or move to another station, and what first began as an attempt to focus my heart becomes meaningless noise. My mind goes numb and my ears scream from the constant barrage of sound.
And something urges me to stop it. I turn it off. I sit. I am still, sitting in the car or wherever, and I sit in silence.
It hits me, only then, that I have been holding my breath. All the while, since getting up, I haven’t breathed once. As I gasp and suck air in for the first time, I think, “Why do I always do this to myself? Why do I let this happen?”
The relief is tangible. I haven’t literally been holding my breath for hours, of course, but the suffocation of my spirit is as real as would be my breathlessness if my lungs were not working. I have been moving…wandering…acting out my life, but I have never once breathed life in.
What’s worse, the motions I have gone through – listening to worship music and praying with my daughter before getting her out of the car and on and on – look like life-giving behaviors. It looks, to anyone watching, like I’m doing what I should do to keep myself connected to the Source of Life. And yet, I gasp for air.
It is not until stillness sets in, even for a moment, that I realize my need for air. Life. Stillness, it seems, in its lack of motion and effort and noise, holds the key to life.
And as I realize this (at least once every day), I have to wonder why mankind has struggled with this for as long as we have existed. We have, haven’t we? We can see it in the history of our race, through the constant effort toward progress. We can see it in Scripture, in the magnification of ten simple commandments into literally hundreds of essentially meaningless rituals. Worst of all, we can see it in our lives, as we continue moving…spinning…toiling…even while something inside us screams for silence and stillness.
We see it. We seem to have an innate aversion to stillness and quiet.
Interestingly, it is in that aversion that God chose to come to us. There is no time of day more still than midnight. There is no silence like that of night. In the movement and noise of life, God Himself stood and waited. Once darkness fell – and with it quiet – God entered, bringing with Him a peace unlikely to be found at any other time in any other place.
As people slept and animals rested and markets waited for daybreak and shepherds enjoyed the coolness of night, a baby was born. The silence of night was pierced by a mother’s groans and a baby’s cry, and the world was introduced to a peace it had never known. There, in the absence of hustle and bustle and noise, the world witnessed the first breath of a new baby boy. There, everything changed.
So today, when I feel weakened by life’s activity and broken by an endless to-do list, my breathlessness is not just about the weight of the packages I carry to my car. My breathlessness is about something more.
I have to catch my breath. I have to find life. I can’t keep going like this.
Only in silence…in stillness…can I breathe. Let the world swirl and rush around me. I must be still. I must breathe.