Have you ever tried holding your breath for a really long time?  

When my sister and I were younger and our family was driving to the cabin, we would have a contest.  When we reached a tunnel we would try and see who could hold their breath the longest.  She would usually win because somewhere in the middle the silence and lack of air became too much for me to handle.  We used to do this in the pool as well.  We would grab a mouthful of air, go underwater and have tea-parties and try and talk to each other, and then after a while swam to the surface completely out of breath.    

And then there are moments where the air is taken from you.  Like when I was at the beach for the very first time.  I was 12 years old or so and got completely wrecked by a wave.  As I tried to regain my balance another wave came and knocked the air out of me again.  I couldn’t seem to find my footing and the waves kept rolling me until I was spat onto shore, gasping for air.

Air is essential to life, but unless you do without it for a while, you forget how desperately you need it.

Last weekend I was in Canada, at an event and there was this beautiful, unplanned moment where so many people I love, gathered in the same place.  I saw one person and just as I would approach them another friend came into view and within minutes a group of people, some of whom I haven’t seen in months, had begun to gather.  I was so overwhelmed by all of these people that I love, that tears began to well up in my eyes.  I’m convinced that this weekend was a glimpse of what heaven is going to be like. 

Fifteen minutes later, after everyone had dispersed, I was sitting in a crowd, waiting for the session to begin and I noticed I was still crying.  In that moment I realized I had been holding my breath for a long time, and these people, with their mere presence, began to fill me back with life.

They were my air.

All throughout the weekend these moments continued where the people I love began to gather in little clumps and individuals would come and go and drop in and out of conversations.  In one group we could be talking until 2 in the morning about the nature of theology and understanding the character of God, and then a few more would join and in an instant we found ourselves reminiscing and laughing until our faces hurt from smiling.  

Those interactions were a breath of fresh air, but also reminded me of something I have forgotten.  We were not designed to live holding our breath.  God did not create us to go, go, go until we run out of steam, and then retreat for a weekend so we can return and go, go, go some more.  Our lives become so full of meetings and appointments and obligations that we forget to do things that breathe life back into us.  As a result we have a community full of Jesus-loving individuals who are so burnt-out and exhausted and in turn give a poor representation of what it means to live in relationship with God and with others.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live that way anymore; barely getting by, and trying to function on empty until there is space to refuel.  I want my life to continuously radiate the joy and freedom that is gained from allowing others to be a part of my life.

So find those people, those random little clumpy clusters of individuals who you have been able to be real and raw with; the ones who really know you and who have seen you at your most vulnerable. 

Because I need them, you need them, and the sooner we realize that, the less time we waste holding our breath.  

And remember, encouragement is like oxygen to the human spirit. Don’t forget you’re carrying someone else’s air. Encourage them; help them breathe.

Ashley Sider