TIME TO BREATHE
Even though I don’t fly very often, I still find myself paying only half my attention to those safety instructions the flight crew goes through before we take off. It may be some combination of fear and fatalism that distracts me. What if I should be lucky enough to survive a crash, grab my floating seat cushion and make my way to the inflatable slide---then what? A plunge into the frigid ocean?
One part of the presentation does grab my attention, though. It’s the time when they talk about the oxygen mask being released from the overhead compartment should the air pressure in the cabin fall too low. “Take the mask in hand and give a firm tug to the plastic tubing,” the cabin attendant instructs. “Then place the mask over your mouth and nose and breathe normally.” Ok, I think I can do that, though I’ll probably fumble my way through.
But it’s the next part that really strikes me. “If you are traveling with a child, put your oxygen mask on first, then place the mask on your child.” Wait a second. Did she say to put my mask on first? How counterintuitive for a parent is that? We all want to be sure our children are safe before we look after ourselves. Come to that, I don’t know one mother or father who wouldn’t sacrifice their own life for that of their child.
But that is where the oxygen mask instructions serve as a useful reminder. Put simply, you must breathe first before you can help another to breathe. You won’t be able to help your child or anyone else if you’re passed out from lack of air.
That is true on a whole lot of levels. Pausing to take a few deep breaths before we tackle a difficult problem both focuses the mind and clams the nerves. If you are going to be any good to others, you’ve got to be good to yourself. You need to have something to give. If all you spend all your time and energy on your kids or your job or shopping or any of those myriad of things that take up our time and attention, sooner or later you’ll end up suffocating yourself.
Lent is a time to catch our breath. A time to re-focus our priorities and get back in touch with what truly gives us life and health. A time, perhaps, to give up something, not to lose a few pounds or to gain spiritual brownie points, but rather to draw us closer to God. A time of quiet questioning and reflection, when we slow down a least a little bit and place our lives more fully in God’s care.
We are no good to others when we run ourselves breathless. We are no good to ourselves when we are irritable, cranky, and preoccupied with a zillion details. We are no good to God when we are not spiritually fit.
I’ve said this before but it always bears repeating: Self-care is not that same as being selfish. On my recent trip to Israel, I was reminded in a myriad of ways that our spiritual development takes time and effort. We need to go apart to be in touch with God and with ourselves. Spiritual self-care is a primary way that we fulfill Jesus’ instruction to “love others as we love ourselves.”
I invite you to take some time to breathe this Lent. Set aside a few minutes a day to re-connect with your soul through prayer, meditation, or devotional reading. Make a commitment to come to church, take part in a Lenten study or midweek program. You will find yourself refreshed and re-focused. And you’ll be in a better place to help those who need you.