Practicing our faith is like training for a marathon. Our Christian faith is tested over a lifetime, not just for a few seconds here and there like a sprinter, so we need strength and endurance, not just speed or skill.
Still, we can be blindsided and caught off guard just like anybody else. In a crisis, we can feel completely lost, just like anybody else. The most faithful person can be thrown into crisis by a call from an ER announcing that a child has a life-threatening injury after being hit by a car. How do you get through such a crisis?
If you have faith in Christ, you will certainly pray, but that may not be your first reaction. Maybe you cry out, “O God!” not as a prayer but as a complaint. How can this possibly be true? In such a crisis, you are not likely to turn aside to a prayer room to contemplate your response. Instead, you will grab your keys, rush to the ER and push through the crowds without regard for anything except finding your child, perhaps praying, “Please God let this be a big mistake.”
In a situation like this, one thing you can do immediately is to breathe. You don’t think much about breathing. It is automatic. In a crisis you don’t really stop breathing, but you do feel that your breath has been sucked out of you. You need to breathe. You need to take a deep breath, hold it as you hold the hand of your child — or your spouse, or your parent, or your dearest friend — and then release your breath under your control. You need to experience that little tiny bit of control. Then, wherever you are, whoever is near, whatever is happening, however angry or hopeless or crushed you feel, you need to pray as you breathe. I call it the Breathing Prayer and I use it when I am too shattered or too overwhelmed to pray any other way.
I breathe in the Spirit of God
I breathe out my crazed fears and give them to God
I breathe in the peace of Christ
I breathe out my hopeless anger at the situation and give it to God
I breathe in the grace I need to make up for my pitiful weakness in this crisis
I breathe out my need to do something, anything, to fix everything right now.
I breathe in the presence of Christ that fulfills his ascension promise, “I will be with you.”
I breathe out the emptiness I felt when this crisis struck.
Right there, holding onto the one you love or the dream you lost or the situation that is completely out of your control, allow yourself to be still and know that God is with you.
It may seem as if this prayer is a lot to remember, but it isn’t that kind of a prayer. The words are less important than your focus on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The words I wrote are simply guides to the words you will use when the moment of need has you in its grip. You don’t need specific words so much as you need to breathe and to trust that the Holy Spirit is with you.
Secular counselors who try to help people in crisis recommend controlled breathing, so you can count on this strategy to be helpful even if you can’t think of any words to pray, but I find that when I simply think the words “Breathing prayer” then I remember — Jesus promised to be with me. Then I can pray.
Do you think this practice will help you?