In my early childhood years, I was diagnosed with asthma. There were a couple of frightening experiences while I was growing up when I had an asthma attack. I was quite prone to developing bronchitis, which worsened into pneumonia on a few occasions. I remember taking breathing treatments, being unable to play and run around as much as my brothers and friends because of breathing difficulties, and sitting on my mom or dad’s lap after the treatment so they could beat on my back and try to break up the gunk in my lungs in hopes of my coughing it out. Fortunately, as I grew older my asthma got under more control. As I grew into adulthood, I learned that there is a two-pronged approach of treatment when it comes to addressing asthma and its accompanying symptoms. First, it is best to take a daily medication that is meant to deal more with the chronic, long-term effects of asthma. Second, however, pertains to whenever breathing difficulties arise because of some seasonal or environmental factors and a need for more intervention arises. In those cases, one needs to have an “emergency” inhaler on hand to give immediate relief. The temptation that could arise from time to time whenever the symptoms seem under control is to neglect the first practice because there isn’t an immediately perceived need or emergency. But this is a serious problematic temptation, for to avoid the daily medication not only has detrimental effects in the long run, it also means that the lungs are not as strong whenever an allergen or accelerant brings about an acute shortness of breath. And in those times – for me, this would be the seasons of climactic changes – my “emergency” inhaler would have to be used even more and even then, it might not be enough to keep me out of the hospital or worse.
I’ve been pondering on this reality and its fittingness in addressing the reality of our own spiritual growth as disciples of Jesus. We long for vitality and have come to realize that Practicing the means of grace, the ‘P’ in our acronym of “H.O.P.E.”, is integral to our discipleship. When I think of it in this way, I realize that the way we treat the practicing of the spiritual disciplines is often like the way we might be tempted to address asthma – only take the medication when needed.
Perhaps we paid particular attention to the discipline of prayer and fasting in the season of Lent (which is well and good!), but how do we foster these practices during the ordinary or growing seasons when things aren’t so adverse or seemingly critical? Or, more personally, it seems to be more natural to approach God in prayer whenever there is an emergency, a need, or a particular grief – which often come in seasons as well – again, which is well and good for us to do! But how are we doing with regard to the daily treatment, part of the purpose of which is to give us more health and vitality so that when the seasons of repentance, of grief, of lament, of struggle, of…you name the adversity…we would be more able to endure it?
So let us not neglect the first prong of the approach – the regular, be it daily or weekly, practicing of grace so that the Spirit (breath) of God might more fully fill our lungs for godly living—participating in the worshipping community, gathering with others in which you watch over one another in love, partaking of Holy Communion, searching the Scriptures, private and communal prayer, fasting (the practicing of self-control)…
And while we practice grace in these ways, we are being equipped for sharing that grace with others – it is our way of living into the prayer expressed in the song by Edwin Hatch:
Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew,
That I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.
Breathe deeply, my friends, breathe the breath of God: every day.