That was the look on my grandson’s face when for the first time in his life he had the wind knocked out of him.
Playing rambunctiously as little boys do, he had tripped and fallen flat on the concrete. Now he couldn’t breathe.
Having never experienced it, the terror he felt was palpable. No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t get breath into his lungs. Acute desperation and urgent distress were etched on his face. I wanted to help…to breathe for him, into him. But all I could do was stand helplessly at his side and try to assure him it would be alright.
The frantic fear in his eyes reminded of what I felt when life had simply knocked the wind out of me. It has so many horrifying ways of delivering those blows.
- You try some new and exciting venture but fail so miserably you fall flat on your face.
- You make yourself vulnerable to love someone just to feel the sucker punch of betrayal.
- You take the risk of believing in something only to find out you were the butt of a bad joke.
- You pour yourself wholly into some task and then get the rug pulled out from under you.
The list of potential stumbling blocks that can send you sprawling is endless. They plant you face-first in pain and leave you gasping emotionally in a fit of spiritual asthma. Life can close in on you and take your breath away–not in awe and wonder, but in frustration or despair.
Some days you wake up feeling confined, inhibited, boxed in. Tied up in knots.
You desperately want to escape the constriction of claustrophobic living and gain some breathing room… a big, broad, expansive, open space. But you just can’t seem to catch your breath.
You’re not the first to feel this way.
This sense of confinement is at the heart of the oldest book of the Bible. In his darkest moments of dejection when he had lost it all and sat in an ash heap wondering why, Job heard whispers of hope in the words of his friend Elihu:
“He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restrictions, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food.” (Job 36:16)
The righteous old Patriarch felt like he had been sucker punched by life–maybe even by God. It was as if his pain was a constricting viper coiled around his heart bent on choking from him the last vestiges of life. He couldn’t breathe.
But in those moments of suffocating terror, God moves in to lovingly woo him from the jaws of distress. God wanted to draw him out of that vice-grip of despair and into the freedom of a spacious place.
He wants to do that for each of us. When…
- Emotional pain constricts our hearts
- Personal loss knocks the air out of us
- Critical failure suffocates our spirits
- Meaningless routine squeezes the life out of us
- Spiritual battles confine us into prisons of doubt
It is from those seasons of restriction that God desires to lead us into place where we can breathe again. Our natural tendency is to use tried and true methods of escape to gain a temporary sense of freedom. But they seldom work and never last.
God wants to take us from the claustrophobic pressure of living solely for the present and bring us into the unrestricted space of life shaped by eternity.
Jesus talked about the choking effect of the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches (Matt 4:19). Time-bound thinking leads to the frenetic lifestyle of grasping. Eternity-based believing leads to the freeing lifestyle of grace.
The image Elihu draws for Job of this spacious place is “the comfort of your table laden with choice food”. What a vivid picture of healing and hope for a guy who has lost everything and sits starving on the ash pile of what once was his life.
The spacious place into which God is drawing us is one of deeply personal blessing. It is in Him…no, it IS Him. The Psalmist sang of this same spacious place:
- It is the shelter into which you are drawn because God delights in you (Ps 18:19).
- It is the solace into which you are lead because God defends you in trouble (Ps 118:5).
- It is the spoils of victory you enjoy because God defeats the enemy before you (Ps 31:8).
When life gets too small for your soul, God carries you into a spacious place free from restrictions and limitations.
His heart. Your breathing room.