Oxygen for the Soul

All day and night I’ve had a hard time breathing—barely able to catch my breath. My best non-expert, but been-down-this-road-before guess is that it has to do with anemia. I’ve had bouts of anemia with these same symptoms throughout my life. My body doesn’t absorb iron well (and we don’t eat a lot of meat around here . . . maybe I should eat more spinach . . . ). During such bouts I have shortness of breath and heart palpitations. I’ve experienced these two symptoms all week, but the breathing got worse today.

Anemia leads to less oxygen in the body—less oxygen to my muscles and organs, including the brain. It can be deadly. But don’t worry, I am going to take care of myself. I am not cavalier about my health nor my family’s health. In the last half hour, after using my inhaler for the umpteenth time today, I’ve had some relief. If it gets bad again, I’ll head to the doctor, urgent care, or the ER. Quite clearly, I cannot continue to have sustained shortness of breath.

Coincidentally, I’ve been thinking about how imbibing the 24-hour news cycle and endless opinions about this and that via social media leaves my soul unable to breathe. Shortness of spiritual breath. Soul palpitations. It’s not that I don’t care—no one who knows me would accuse me of apathy. It’s that I am not superhuman. I simply do not have the capacity to pour my time and energy and prayers into every single thing (from the mundane to the tragic) that enters my soul through my eyes as I log onto social media. No one does. We are limited. Finite and fragile, dusty creatures.

When my six year-old daughter experiences asthmatic symptoms, she says she has “hard breathing.” Are we truly aware when our souls experience hard breathing?

Spending time in solitude and silence is curative for the soul. It brings oxygen to all of our parts. Having three girls under the age of eleven, a full-time job, a part-time job, a husband, church, friends, and my own interests usually means that the only silence and solitude I get is in the bathtub. And I gladly take it. That is where I get my daily quiet even if it’s only for five to fifteen minutes before one of the girls knocks on the door (or barges in, to be honest) asking for my attention. It’s where I read. It’s where I pray. In warmer weather when the temperatures aren’t frigid, I often walk in the mornings or with my husband at local metro parks. There are moments of conversation but also a comfortable silence between us as we absorb and inhale nature. Being in the silence and solitude of nature fills my soul. It is my oxygen.

Lately I’ve noticed that I need more silence and solitude. A quick way to get that is to give up time on social media. I do that every Lent and I’ve minimized it during Advent. But more and more, fasting from social media is becoming part of my regular rhythms. I find that I need to take deeper breaths—times of silence and solitude—to be healthy and to love God and others better—to love myself better.

Without these fasts from social media and the snatches of silence and solitude I snag throughout my day, my soul becomes anemic. Hard breathing. My capacity to live a gospel-shaped life of love seems diminished.

For health’s sake, let us do what it takes to cultivate silence and solitude in our lives. We’ll be better for it and so will the church.

Marlena Graves

Marlena Graves is the author of A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness (Brazos Press 2014). Hearts and Minds Books awarded it the Best Book on Spiritual Formation by a First Time Writer (2014).Marlena is also a bylined writer for Christianity Today and Our Daily Journey (Our Daily Bread Ministries). Her pieces have also appeared in Relevant and many other venues. She is the Minister of Pastoral Care at her church and an instructor at Winebrenner Seminary. She lives in NW Ohio with her husband and three daughters.
Marlena Graves

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