I am currently on a three day retreat with a couple of clergy colleagues. We’ve been talking about getting away for a while now and I am grateful that we made the time to do so.
During my devotions this morning, I was struck by the beauty of the fog over the lake we are staying at. It was still, quiet, and serene. However, as quickly as the fog descended, it lifted and disappeared. A part of my devotional experience is to read four Psalms a day. In one of today’s Psalms, Psalm 39, the psalmist writes, “surely everyone stands a mere breath.” Life, the psalmist says, is nothing in God’s sight—a couple of handsbreaths. The psalmist reminds us, as only a lyrical poet can do, that life is short and fleeting in the grand scope of eternity. Just like the lake fog descending in the coolness of the morning, life comes and goes.
As I have reflected on the shortness of life, I wonder how present I have been with the life I have lived thus far. I’m only 34, but I am assuming a third of my life is already behind me. Have I been engaged with and alert to life? Have I been fully present to my family, to others, to God, to myself? Or have I blazed through it, simply surviving each day and looking forward to tomorrow?
If life is just a breath, have I really stopped to breathe it in?
I am increasingly aware of the fact that retreats, vacations, Sabbath, and rest are vital to the human experience. We were not made to work ourselves to death, nor were we created to just get through life. From the beginning of creation, God orchestrated an order to life—work six days, rest one. After each day of creation God paused, slowed down, and reflected on his work calling it good. As people made in the image of God, work, rest, and reflection are a part of God’s divine fingerprint stamped into humanity. We are not created to survive life, barreling through it and exhausted at the end of it. It’s a sad commentary when people in their elder years look back over their life with regret for having not experienced it fully. No, we are created to live by a divine pattern of work, rest, reflect, work, rest, reflect. We are created to stop, pause, and celebrate the beauty of God’s good creation and to celebrate life itself. We are created to thrive spiritually, emotionally, and physically in the shortness of life. Rest and reflection, then, are central parts of God’s work, and so they should be for us as well.
Columba of Iona says, “Joy is the echo of God’s life in us.” If life is but a breath, what if we breathed in joy— God’s life —as deeply as we can before we exhale into eternity? Being present in life, celebrating the life we have been given, is to breathe in God every day, to take in his majesty, beauty, and love. It’s to take into us the ruach, the breath, the Spirit of God deep into our lungs and to allow the Spirit to bring life into dead places and rest to our tiredness. Breathing in the Spirit brings love and healing into hurt places and joy out of the depths of our experiences, even the those that come with pain.
So life is a mere breath, a fleeting fog, a speck in eternity. But life is good. Enjoy the life you have been given today. Breathe it in, and in your breathing, may you exhale gratitude and praise.