space to breathe



Last week I traveled to Chicago and left the responsibilities of my regular life for three days, and I won’t lie – it was glorious.

I sat with my mentor over a veggie sandwich and coffee and soaked in his wisdom.

I spent an entire day at my publishers talking about nothing but writing and marketing and my books. I got to hang out with my nieces and nephew, undistracted by the needs (read: demands) of my own kids.

I stayed with my best friend, talking late into the night at her kitchen bar about who we were 16 years ago when we met and how we landed here, about our careers and motherhood, about sexuality and writing and trauma.

I had so much space to breathe, I almost didn’t know what to do with myself. But the space was a gift, and I didn’t want to miss it. A friend recently shared with me her pastor’s admonition to “never deny a blessing from God.” And so I received the time as a blessing and reveled in it.

I read without interruption. I drank coffee without simultaneously emptying the dishwasher, preparing breakfast and getting kids out the door. I went for a run without having to coordinate childcare or worry about the demands of the day. I stayed up too late talking and listening and eating good food.

I came back physically exhausted and spiritually exhilarated.

But when I stepped off the airplane and rounded the corner of our tiny Chattanooga airport, my precious and exhausted husband was waiting with our four disheveled little ones, hopping up and down holding homemade signs. As my two-year old daughter shrieked out, “Mommy!” I actually got butterflies in my stomach. The time away from my family didn’t diminish my love for them but enlarged it. I came home refreshed and renewed and ready to love them even more fiercely.

Space to breathe is not easy to come by in my house. Four high-energy kids create a lot of things, but quiet is not one of them. The day-to-day moments of parenting are such a paradox: life-giving and life-draining; energizing and exhausting. Moments so tender I want to freeze them in time, and moments so agonizing I want to wish time away.  Life in my house is not easy, but it is good.

Your life may look drastically different than mine.

Perhaps your life is dominated not by noise but by a quiet that is more lonely and isolating than refreshing.

Instead of trying to figure out how you got here, maybe you are gearing up for your life to start. Rather than wrestling with the impact of the choices you’ve made about family and career, you may be wondering what your family and career will even look like.

Or perhaps you are on the other side of raising kids and climbing the proverbial career ladder. Maybe you are now in a season of reflection. Your days of career-building and family-raising are in the past, and you are figuring out what your life is about when it’s not about kids and jobs.

You may be in a different season of life than me, but perhaps you can connect with my desire for breathing room. Because it’s really not so much about space to do my own thing, but about space to grow, to think and feel and be intentional, to become more than what I am today. Creating a space to breathe feels good, but for me it’s really about becoming good.

Last week I wrote about the psychology of happiness over at her.meneutics and how the drive toward feeling good can suck us into the lie of the next thing. Psychologists call this the hedonic treadmill, when we tell ourselves if we just had that house or that car, then we would be content. And maybe we’re lucky enough to get that thing we just knew we needed, but the contentment doesn’t last. So not only are we not as happy as we thought we would be, but now we feel guilty about our lack of euphoria. In some ways the pursuit of happiness is like a hamster wheel that keeps us running and running and never getting anywhere.

As a therapist, I want to help my clients do more than just feel good; I want to help them become good. And I want this for myself. Feeling good isn’t bad, but it also isn’t enough. God created us for so much more, and I long to help folks walk in that reality.

But how?

Today I am starting a series here on the blog exploring how spiritual formation – the shaping of the inner life – can help us journey toward more than just feeling good. I am not suggesting formulaic or singular answers. Just an offer to walk with you through some practices that have been life-giving for me. I will examine spiritual disciplines like silence, solitude and centering prayer and be practicing them anew as I write about them here.

I don’t know about you, but my soul is ready. I long for space to breathe in and experience God’s redemptive love and real presence in my life and world. I hope you will stick around as we jump into practicing silence next week.

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