I remember a time long ago when breathing came easily for me. Two summers stand out. When I was about twelve, my summer was slow and simple. Long, unscheduled days blended into one another. Everyone in the neighborhood would ride bikes, play football, hang around until late afternoon. Each day at 4:00 p.m., we would all gather at the pool for ninety minutes of raucous play. Parents would rotate the duty of watching us to ensure no one was hurt. We played Sharks and Dolphins, and Marco Polo. We imitated Olympic divers, complete with parental judging. The most difficult decision each day was which game to play first. The whole summer, as I remember it, was carefree, stress-free, and full of joy.
A few summers later, when I was in high school, I taught swimming and tennis lessons with my brother, Mike. Each morning, we went out to a community pool in the country and taught a small group of beginners. None of them were training for Wimbledon. We were sort of glorified babysitters, with the luxury of a swimming pool and tennis courts at our disposal to keep everyone happy. After the morning “camp,” Mike and I would drive to a nearby golf course and play eighteen holes of golf. We still laugh today about the summer of the “truncated dimples,” named after the dimple pattern on the golf balls that we used to play. Our only stress was whether we could get in an extra nine holes each day.
I knew how to breathe in those days. Breathing came naturally. Joy was found in simplicity, the outdoors, and good fellowship. Those summers are gone. Happy-go-lucky afternoons are replaced by stress-filled weeks. And while responsibilities make carefree living seem unfathomable, Jesus didn’t seem to think so. Living in tumultuous times of brutal oppression, He appealed to His disciples and to us that we need not worry. Our Father knows every hair on our heads. Jesus urged us to consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air.
We need to learn to breathe again by learning to live again. Noise, speed, and overload are choking the life out of us. We have become so accustomed to our shallow breathing that we don’t even notice it, much less understand the impact on our lives.
Life does not have to be this way! We desperately need to expose the sickness of overconsumption, overstimulation, and overscheduling. We need to understand our own part in creating these problems while at the same time addressing the external forces that seek to trap us in their addictive grasp. We need new eyes to see a better way to live—life according to “the unforced rhythms of grace,” as Eugene Peterson put it in his translation of Jesus’ words from Matthew 11:28–29 (the message).
Life with God.
Life interruptible by God.
Abundant life, with hundredfold fruitfulness.
We need to find the way to authentic, God-directed purpose, without the overwhelming stress, distraction, and corresponding hopelessness that life will never slow down.