When Cars—and People—Can’t Breathe

Writing in company this morning with the bloggers gathered at Five Minute Friday, on the word prompt “Breathe.”

“I’m in the wrong lane!” I realize. My memorized directions served me well till now, but they only went this far. I thought I could check the next lap somehow before this, but couldn’t till pulling up to this light. Too much demanded my undivided attention.

But now my gut tells me I chose wrong and the directions printout on the car seat agrees.

So I make my way through the busy business area, searching for a good turn-around spot—hopefully one where I can just stop a while and simply sit and breathe.

Besides, that dashboard warning going, “Bing! Bing! Bing!” back there in the crowded six-lane traffic needs investigation. And the car itself seems ready to pass out, after chug-chug-chugging away so sluggishly, as if 65 mph was pushing it way past its limits.

Spotting a motel complex to the left, I sigh relief. I turn, pull in, put the car in park, turn off the motor—and deep-sigh yet again. And I decide, right then and there, to give myself a full ten minutes. I drop my hands from the steering wheel, lean back in my seat… and breathe.

Those exhales are important, I’ve come to learn. The Asthma Association taught me that. Trouble from asthma comes from not being able to get rid of what’s inside to make room for fresh oxygen to come in. So they advise you to do a breathing exercise while walking: Inhale to the count of four, exhale to the count of six, steadily blowing out what’s inside through lips pursed as if to whistle.

The relax-and-live-better coaches advise something similar. Inhale naturally, then exhale long and slow, as long as you can. Release the burden and relax the taut chords.

Later at the retreat I’m also asked, “What do you need to let go of to be fully present this weekend?” and am advised to let go of that as I exhale, then inhale what I need from God. And a handout sheet quotes John 20:23, “Then he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

Even the car, it turns out, had a similar problem (besides what the dashboard warning was binging about). Closer investigation under the hood (later) revealed leaves from last autumn surrounding the air filter, making the engine, as Husband described it, “Starved for oxygen.”

Is it just a coincidence that I read Psalm 55:23 this morning?

Cast your burden on the LORD, and He will sustain you” (verse 23).

I don’t think so.

What burden is under your hood that you need to “exhale,” get out of the way, and cast (roll) onto the LORD, so you can better breathe in the things of His Spirit? When can you take ten minutes to “breathe” and release it? How about now?

The Refining Power of Silence

Two collages sit propped before me, born from a striking discovery I made two weeks ago about the word, “refine”: A surprising phrase repeats in its definition: “to free from…”

Equating refinement with getting freed wasn’t something I’d ever considered. Ridding self of something, maybe. Burning away bad stuff, too. But “freeing” sounds too pleasant to go with “refiner’s fire.”

Yet there sit the definitions. And the more I consider, the more fitting I find the word “free.”

I’m also thinking of the “silent retreat” I attended,  which demonstrated how silence can help free us from “unwanted material,” “impurities, “moral imperfection,” and things “vulgar or uncouth.”

So, from what specifically might silence free me?

Words, to start with.

Now, I love words. I’m a word person. I love to write and speak and listen and read… words, words, words. Words are part of God’s image in us; Jesus Himself is “the Word of God.”

But words, like fire, can be dangerous. Bible warnings about them come flying at my head:

“In the multitude of words, sin is not lacking” (Prov 10:19).

“Every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it, in the day of judgment” (Mt 12:36).

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Pro 18: 21)–and death’s mentioned first.

Words can be foolish, sinful, malicious, even deadly. So silence seems a wise safeguard. Of course there are times we must speak (e.g., for justice’s sake), but chances are that sin with our mouth will more likely happen by commission than omission.

We can also hide behind words. Figuring out “the right thing to say” can cover up our lack of understanding or compassion. Chatter can prevent awkward pregnant pauses. Busy-ness talk and light-hearted banter can mask our fear, hurt, uncertainty, or even anger.

But during “37 Hours of Silence” all occasion for mouth-sin, all obligation to say just “the right thing” is swept aside, and for a while we are… free from all that.

This doesn’t imply an anti-social spirit. In fact, one of the things I recalled when free-writing about “refine” was the dining hall where I ate on retreat. Its site, a Christian camp of 100 acres and many buildings, was a busy place that weekend. At least three other groups were gathered there simultaneously with us “Silent Sanctuary” retreaters.

Oddly for a “silent” retreat, the dining room filled with noise as it filled with people. But, remembering it last Friday as I free-wrote about refinement, I imagined how that room might look to a bird’s-eye observer, peeking through a ceiling, say. I wondered how he would answer if asked, “Which tableful of people looks most refined to you?” I felt sure he’d choose one of the “Silent Sanctuary” reserved “quiet tables.” Not that those seated there looked prim and stiff. (At mine we were at one point sharing silent smiles and even giggles.) But there is simply something calmer and more refined about silence, even amid cacophony, than loud laughter wafting across a whole large room, declaring, “I knew there was a catch! Ha ha ha ha ha!”

At chatter-surrounded tables hands as well as lips moved more rapidly, muscles looked tighter, trays even clattered more. No, these other groups weren’t bunches of louts. But sitting at our “quiet table,” I could only think of it as an oasis of calm in a wilderness of noise.

Yes, I’m convinced about it: Silence has refining power, and also gives its own freedom–from the unwanted, unnecessary, rough and unpolished. And loosed from the obligations and distractions of human conversation, the heart can also focus better on conversation with God.

It doesn’t look silent, does it, with all these words? And hidden among them are “simple” and “uncluttered”–which this collage decidedly isn’t. That’s why I did the next one, more sparely and simply.
Even this one could be simplified, have fewer words–and thus be yet more refined.

*****

Metamorphosis Advice: Hands Off!

What happens in there, inside that cocoon? What silent process turns a worm into a glory? Has anyone peered inside somehow and beheld the process? ’Tis mystery all to me.

Copyrighted images courtesy of Christina Moore at Crumbs from His Table. Used with permission. Do not reproduce.
If you look closely here, you can see the monarch wings within the now translucent confines.

Such thought forms in my head today because I feel cocooned. Cocooned long now, and much in process, preparing to emerge. A pulsing drive in this little ’piller is starting to emanate from core to skin, starting to push against crowding confinement—desire transforming into hope and labor, labor into breaking free.

Yet I know this: you cannot rush the process, or you get process fail. I’ve seen it with moths and butterflies. I’ve seen it with baby chicks. And I’ve seen it with overly “helpful” people. You dare not hurry emergence.

How often some observer, watching the drawn-out struggle, interprets it as pain (which it well may be), and rushes in to “rescue,” to help the struggler “just a little”—and what results is weakness and death. Of a butterfly, or a baby chick, or an embryo of creativity meant to become a masterpiece, or a new level of faith and understanding or personal victory.

You peel back even a bit of that shell or cocoon or shredding armor and you deprive the emergent being of the strength that comes from the struggle itself.

It’s like in the Song of Songs…

Do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases…” (Song 8:4).

We get in love’s way. We get in God’s way. We get in the way of natural processes. We do it with chicks and butterflies. We do it with other people. We do it with ourselves.

With our rush and impatience or self-importance we eclipse a process needing hands-off space.

At the “Silent Sanctuary” retreat, in the orientation session, one instruction to all attending warmed my heart and left me feeling safe and free: If you see someone crying, don’t rush right in to rescue them.

I’d seen that kind of thing before: some mama hen kind of woman swooping down on some seminar weeper who actually needed space, not rescue: space to puzzle and ponder and process, space to connect with God as her source of strength, space to work and struggle, imbued with solely His divine power, to clamber, exhausted, out of her cocoon…

And I knew, as I felt myself on the edge of weeping, I didn’t want anyone swooping down on me! Not after all the process I’d been going through, which I knew still needed inside-outward completion.

To view wonderful real-time videos of monarch emergence from cocoons, go to this link and enjoy–in real-time or with speed adjusted upward, alone or with children or grandchildren.

I also knew that an actual mother hen doesn’t peck away the outside of a shell that needs breaking from inside. She rolls eggs beneath her wings to keep them uniformly warm. She pokes her head in wonder toward newly hatching ones. She tosses out the cast-off shells. But she doesn’t pry the fledgling out of its confines or its strengthening struggle. Instinctively she’s wiser than we. [View a great video of the chick hatching process here.]

So, all that said… That’s why you haven’t heard from me till now about the silent retreat. A lot is still in process.

From my shredding cocoon…

SylvR

Copyrighted images courtesy of Christina Moore at Crumbs from His Table. Used with permission. Do not reproduce. But to view more, visit here.

 

Control Freaks and Ultimate Control

Joining with the Five Minute Friday fellowship this morning early, I check out this week’s prompt word…

 

Control

 

Control! I can’t time this. I’m going to struggle through this.

The word honestly makes me gasp a bit. But here goes…

 

There are people who want to control everything around them, circumstances and people, mostly because of fear. They try to control to keep bad things from happening. They lock their doors with two or three locks each and check them all before they go to bed. They double-check on fire hazards, and won’t use their lovely fireplaces because they fear a conflagration. They warn you sternly about this, that, and the other, because they fear something happening to you that will make them lose you. These people can make life difficult, but once you realize what’s at the root of all those attempts at control, they’re a little easier to deal with.

But there are other people who want to control because they have this driving desire always to win, to conquer, to be one-up on the next person, and make sure that person is one-down. And they aren’t always above board and transparent about it, but secretly scope you out for weak places, buttons they can push to intimidate you or ways they can knock the knees out from under your confidence. They’ll pretend to support you but, at the same time, secretly put obstacles in the path of your prospects and potential fulfillments and joys. They’ll charm the audiences that daily life provides them and turn people around them into unknowing puppets. They’re bullies, but often bullies in very smooth disguise, because they’re out to win big with the people in their public world, be it large or small, and that includes looking good while doing bad. They’d control the whole world for personal gain if they could, and some of them seem to try.

But they can’t. And neither can we. Nor can we control them!

Yet with either of these types of “control freaks” we can easily get sucked into trying to! We can try to fix them, or to steer their hearts, or make them understand how they’re hurting us and then stop it and change. Which, in any of these cases, can become a terrible, increasingly tangled snare.

We can’t control the world and life and circumstances, or ultimately, other people, and neither can they, even if they do become artful at manipulation (especially that second group). No, there is still only One Who can control it all, and does, and I just want to testify that putting our trust and dependence on Him gives us a safe place, a wise place, to turn to, to cling to, a path to follow, and a loving helping hand and steadying arm to enable us to walk it.

For this Controller is also the Source and Essence of Love.

Sometimes we may question why He allows the bullies and manipulators to pervade our world and have the influence they do (consider Joseph’s brothers and, later, the bullying Pharaoh of Egypt who oppressed God’s children), but as we grow to know Him better and walk with Him more closely, we can begin to get glimpses of how He uses even the “control freaks” (even the bullying ones) for the ultimate, eternal, good of His beloved people.

 

Fire-free Refining?

Joining in again today with the Five Minute Friday writing fellowship, I’ve “free-written” not just once, but twice. Read on and you’ll see why…

 

False start:

 

So the free-write prompt word for this week on Five Minute Friday is “refine.”

I read it and sigh.

I don’t want to write about refine.

I don’t want to think about refine.

I don’t like the idea of refining, because it makes me think of metal and fire and searing intensity—just as the fiery illustration on a linked post to the host page emphasizes.

I’m not metal, and fire hurts. And it seems like I’ve had enough “refining” that if I’m not pretty well done by now, I’m never going to be, so what’s the good of all that pain?

This is way too cynical to put online.

But I do get tired, oh so tired.

Please Lord, help me get through all this refining process, and end up refined!

 

Stop!  No, time’s not up, but I’m starting over. Scratch all that writing! (above).

 

I stop and ponder….

I look up the word’s definition, and I see an interesting repetition! Do you see it?

re fine vt 1 : to free… from impurities or unwanted material 2 : to free from moral imperfection : ELEVATE 3 : to improve or perfect by pruning or polishing … 5 : to free from what is vulgar or uncouth…

What’s repeated is the phrase “to free…”!

This has quite a different feel from being plunged into fire!

I have also looked up “refine” in my online concordance, in many different Bible translations, and what surprises me there is that I haven’t yet found any contexts where “refine,” “refined,” or “refining” by fire are actually talking about the growth and improvement of the earnest believer in Christ! (except possibly one, obliquely).

They talk about gold or silver or God’s stubborn, rebellious people who have to be corrected against their will, because they won’t bend to His, won’t make any effort to free themselves of their immoral practices, and follow His instructions and ways.

I may be missing something here in this quick survey, but what’s impressing me so far is how big a part the believer evidently has in the refining process—and by that I mean the improving, growing process, not necessarily always by fire.

Yes, God does prune us, correct us, and give us a share in Christ’s suffering, which is intended to have an improving effect on people like me and lead us into deeper fellowship with Him. But even that won’t make it happen if I don’t participate, cooperate, yield to the process. I can still balk and rebel.

God is clearly the doer of much of the spiritual “polishing.” But I make it more or less possible by how much I make myself available to Him, yield to His instruction as well as His working, and put aside the junk of my life that comes between me and Him.

Then I think of last weekend’s silent retreat [I attended] and what it taught me. And one thing I suddenly realize more clearly is The Refining Power of Silence.

I have no time left. I’ll have to write that in a separate post.

Maybe I’ll start right now in a third five-minute free write…

…..