Catching My Breath
By Catherine McNiel
I love writing, but my least favorite thing to word-smith are author bios—those short quippy descriptions that accompany each book, blog post, and article. How to summarize one person in two or three short lines, all while sounding both factual and fun? My current go-to bio says I “care for three kids, work two jobs, and grow one enormous garden.” That’s all true. That’s how I’ve spent the bulk of my energy for the past eleven years.
And frankly, that’s a lot of things to be busy with. I learned a key lesson the hard way, long ago: don’t get so busy that the noise of life drowns out the lifegiving voice of God.
Living out this lesson is challenging, now that my main job is caring for those three kids mentioned in my bio. My busyness for the past decade has been caused not by my own overcommittment, but by their basic needs. This is a job that doesn't leave room for much of what is commonly understood as "spiritual discipline." There's simply no silence or solitude to be found, and I am often not the master of my schedule, diet, sleep, or in many respects, my life.
I've many times heard the message: "that's ok—there will be time for spiritual practices later in life." I accept the encouragement intended in these words, and yet strongly disagree with the premise. What parents, and caregivers of all sorts, do with their energy may not be featured in classes on Spiritual Formation, but the reason we lack time for devotion is because we pour ourselves out, in service to God and others, every moment of the day.
There has been no steeper road of humility, surrender, submission, service, worship, and prayer that I have walked in all my life than parenting.
Let’s pull back the veil we so often erect between what is "spiritual" and what is "everyday" for a moment. When our hands are filthy from cleaning up another person’s lunch—or dirty diaper—this is a chance to practice service and humility. When our heads spin with cries and demands from a million impatient voices—we have an opportunity to enroll in graduate-level work on remembering God in the real moment where He is present.
For caregivers, opportunities for spiritual practices abound in every moment, if we can look beyond the veil separating “spirit” from “body” and see how our souls are shaped in the physical tasks of our day to day lives.
During this season we might even say “I haven’t had time to catch my breath today.” But of course, that’s never literally true. One task we do each day, whether we have time or not, is breathe: in and out, in and out, day in and day out. Couldn’t this be a spiritual tool?
I love these words from Gunilla Norris:
When we are born, we are born into a relationship with air, with breathing. How closely the words wind, air, life, and spirit are linked in human thought. We are creatures into whom life is breathed. A word we have for inhaling is inspiration. When we are fully inspired, not only are our lungs filled - our beings are also filled, with hope, with potential, with the impetuous to express possibility. Expired, we are over and done with, stopped...finished. Our life is lived within this paradox. With every inhalation we are given life. With every exhalation we must surrender that life, for another breath to be given to us.
Whatever else we may be doing in these busy seasons, breathing can be one way of making space for God and his voice—even when we’re too busy to realize it. Each time we breath in and then out, we throw ourselves—body and soul—upon God, the One who created and sustains our every moment.
During my first conversation with Whitney Simpson years ago, I knew I had found a kindred spirit. And when I opened her book Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit, I rejoiced in her opening words: “God is the giver of life and breath.”
Yes. Thanks be to God, yes he is.
I still deeply believe this lesson: make a place for God. But I also know that in seasons that call me away from “quiet times” to pour myself out in service, he is powerfully here, already. As long as my life is best summarized as “caring for three kids, working two jobs, and growing one enormous garden,” the One who breathed life into our bodies remains as close to me as my next breath.
Catherine McNiel is the author of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress 2017). She writes to open eyes to God’s creative, redemptive work in each day—while caring for three kids, two jobs, and one enormous garden. Connect with Catherine on Twitter, Facebook, or at catherinemcniel.com.
Kristen Vincent and her work with prayer beads has impacted my own healing journey. I have shared her book and prayer bead model at retreats and workshops over the years with many of you.
It’s an honor for me to now be working alongside Kristen as an author with the Upper Room Books family of authors. Kristen is also a fellow yogini. She shared the following reflection with me and I’m so honored to share it with you in celebration of the release of her newest book and deepest sharing, Beads of Healing: Prayer, Trauma, and Spiritual Wholeness.
Guest Post by Kristen Vincent
Our yoga instructor asked us to do Pigeon Pose last week. As my class members and I leaned into this stretch, she said something interesting: “I often find stretches to be the hardest part of my practice. There is all this sensation in my body in the areas I’m stretching, and it’s hard to just be with those feelings. But sensation is just that: sensation. You don’t have to judge it. It doesn’t have to be good or bad. And if you can stay with it, sit with it, the stretch gets easier."
She's right. Pain is, by nature, uncomfortable. We do whatever we can to avoid it, whether easing up in a stretch or staying busy when a distressing memory arises. As a trauma survivor, I know this firsthand. I spent years trying to avoid painful feelings and memories. Problem is, by avoiding the pain I was allowing it to continue. I realized I was stuck in a place of fear, always trying to stay one step ahead of the pain.
It wasn’t until I took the time to be still that I learned to be present with my pain. In that space I recognized that God was there, too; indeed, God had always been present - even during the painful events - helping me to cope. Now, in the stillness, God was offering to take that pain and transform it. The more I spoke my truth and described my feelings, the more I saw God guiding me towards a place of trust, gratitude, and wholeness.
It is natural for us to want to avoid pain. But when pain takes the form of memories and feelings from past events, and we avoid that pain because we judge it as being too scary or too hard to deal with, then we get stuck. Lucky for us, God is always present, always ready to help us bear the pain and move through it to a place of deep, healing love. Thanks be to God.
Whitney R. Simpson
• lover of the Trinity
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Whitney R. Simpson,
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