Counting Your Life In Breaths
Every breath came fast and increasingly labored as I pedaled up a Colorado hill, gasping for the diminished oxygen in the over mile high atmosphere. I couldn’t help but think of the young men of the Youth Home who had pedaled not just a few miles, as I this morning, but 1500 miles a few weeks ago. The temperature for me this beautiful day was in the delightful 70s; for them, day after day of over 100 degrees accompanied by an almost equal and incredibly stifling humidity. Their feat, one these young men had never even attempted before, awed all of us; the staff who rode with them and those like me who accompanied by car. One of these young riders who will graduate the Home today spontaneously volunteered, when approaching Omaha and the end of the trail at Boys Town, to ride Paul Anderson’s one speed Schwinn bike, preserved for 50 years, the rest of the way; and just as Paul, he wore flip-flops, Paul’s foot-wear for the entire 1500 miles in 1961. He later told me, “It was tough, as I am certain it was.
Such is the spirit of many of these young men who graduate the program at the Paul Anderson Youth Home. It is a different spirit from the days when they entered the Home as much as a year and a half before; a spirit made tender to the reality and presence of God by His own Holy Spirit. There are many breaths which encompass those eighteen months, if you measure your life in such a biblical fashion. It is not normal practice as human beings to account for our life in the number of its days, or number of breaths; we measure by years and the celebration of annual birthdays. We believe our life to be a personal right, rather than on loan from God, and long life to be expected, even demanded, as if we have the authority and power to do so. We think little of the fact that so many never take a breath outside the womb, and countless others do not even survive childhood.
The measure of our life viewed as one breath at a time not only speaks to its remarkable brevity contrasted with eternity, but it speaks just as powerfully to its vanity. Psalm 39 describes how vain we really are, which is evident not only in the observation of others around us, but is all too evident looking inside, when or if we ever see our self with the fog of vain thinking cleared away by the wind of the Spirit; in all our naked vain-glory. Until the character and truth of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) is consciously at work within and being applied by breaths, you are not healthy; vanity wins; you don’t. This is not just a truth we pray for our young men to see, it is one we all must be reminded of every day, every breath we take. When I observe the political rhetoric of politicians now filling the atmosphere with streams of never ending vanity, I dare say that a person of Matthew 5 character could never be elected as President today, much less dog-catcher (with apologies to all dog-catchers). Election to heaven is infinitely more important!
Be reminded, then, of truth, as you exercise and experience labored breath, or even climbing stairs for some; as you take a breath to speak, sometimes not so edifying words; be reminded of the brevity of your life and also the vanity of it; be reminded of the humility that unceasing prayer, breath by breath, nurtures within the soul; be reminded that God knows every day ordained for you, and that there is an end to your breath which He knows, and you do not. Be reminded of His grace and mercy every breath you take. . . . . . . . And be thankful.
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