The irony of our lives is that we often find ourselves dwelling in a spirit of ingratitude because we don’t see the immediate fruits of our servanthood. It is during these hardships that we learn to become aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit who is always present to us. As Henri Nouwen taught, “we all have dreams about the perfect life: a life without pain, sadness, conflict, or war. The spiritual challenge is to experience glimpses of this perfect life right in the middle of our many struggles.”
Just over two years ago, my mom, the Matriarch of the family left this life to be with her Lord exactly one day after she celebrated her 88th birthday. She was determined to live in the present moment and held onto life by reading her Bible and praying daily. Sometimes she would wake up early to spend that extra hour in fasting and praying before breakfast. She had an amazing faith and trust in God that she wouldn’t languish in Dementia in the same way as her two sisters had suffered long arduous lives in a demented state. In spite of my own serious health issues, I was blessed with being able to provide full-time home care for her over a period of two years. Looking back at that difficult, yet sacred time, I know that I survived each day with the aid of the spiritual rhythm of breath prayer.
As I reflect back on that time of caregiving for my mom, I recall that as I carried out each menial task (oftentimes an overwhelming task just to get myself out of bed), I became more aware of the promptings of the Holy Spirit. In the mornings after breakfast, while undertaking the tedious chore of cleaning up, I began inserting a breath prayer, “Lord help me” or “Papa Grande, give me peace and strength” just to get through this part of the day. I learned to make this a prayer time as I would look out the window and embrace God’s creation seen in the birds, their colors, the many variations of green trees, and the huge trees that had flowers on them. As I found myself being in awe of this majestic beauty, for a few moments I became totally unaware of my tedious chore. Upon returning to the reality of my day, I noticed that something had changed—I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit gently nudging me along to complete the tasks at hand. As I cleaned the crevices and corners, I sensed that through the practice of breath prayer I was also being washed and the areas of resentment and hopelessness that I was experiencing were also being cleaned out. And in the process, I was being drawn closer to God.
In essence, Breath Prayer helped me
- to acknowledge the presence of the Lord by bringing an awareness of his provision through a renewed strength and endurance;
- to receive gentle reminders of the unhealthy thoughts that were holding me hostage and a detriment to my own well-being;
- to utilize simple everyday tasks as daily reminders of the need for emotional, mental and spiritual healing, and
- to gently bring scriptures to my thoughts such as this favorite of mine from 2 Corinthians 4:8-12.
"We are subjected to every kind of hardship, but never distressed; we see no way out but we never despair; we are pursued but never cut off; knocked down, but still have some life in us; always we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our ... mortal flesh"
At times, our daily struggles are so overwhelming that we tend to forget who we are in Christ, and that we are never alone. In retrospect, this practice of “Breath Prayer” helped me to realize how close God really was to me during that difficult yet rewarding trial.
Finding Your Breath Prayer
Write or say this sentence: What I want most from God right now is....
- Then choose your favorite name for God. Example: Breath of life, King Jesus, Father.
- Combine your name for God with your heart’s desire.
- Make a breath prayer of 7 or 8 syllables that flows smoothly when spoken aloud and captures your heart’s desire. Examples: “Father, I receive your peace” or “Shepherd to you I lift my soul, restore me.”
- The first part of the breath prayer may be spoken while inhaling and the second part while exhaling.
—Gracie Johnson, MS
Gracie Johnson is an Odyssey in Christ spiritual director and along with her participation on the retreat and seminar staff, she serves as an OIC board member.