I distinctly recall taking what I thought would be my last mortal breath. Life and circumstance had beaten me down and whittled me away to a mere shadow of my former self. I was rapidly wasting away. At 90 pounds less than what I weighed just a few months before, my active heart rate was 32-33 beats per minute. My digestive system was paralyzed. I couldn’t eat. I was on a feeding tube. And, as much as I wanted to live, I was so weak that I remember consciously choosing to take my last breath.
Breathing had become a chore. Even blinking my eyelids felt like it exhausted me, at times. I was ready to let go. I’d had enough. So in the deep of the night, I closed my eyes. I inhaled one last time as a voice deep within me said “let go.” And then I let go, sure that this was it.
Do you really choose your next breath?
But then, somehow, somewhere; somewhere from beyond me but within me I found my next breath. In fact, it wasn’t really “me” that took that next breath at all. At least it didn’t feel that way. My chest rose. My lungs filled with air. It was not by my own doing. And as I felt this strange invader fill my chest with air, I heard an instinct that sounded like the quiet, thunderous, soothing voice of a thousand rumbling whispers declare from a place deep within the universe of my soul, “I am.” It then rushed out of me, echoing, “here.”
It happened again. Inhale. “I am.”
Exhale. “Here.” Again.
Inhale. “I am.”
As my mortality persisted one breath at a time, I was deduced to the cosmic realization of my own nothingness, which revealed the mystery of my existence—that my existence had always been breath-to-breath and, so long as I had mortal breath, the great “I AM” of scripture (Exodus 3:14) and the little “I am” of “me” existed and spoke with a univocity I’d never realized. God was in there somewhere inside of me. And I was part of him.
The breath of life is more than a mere instinct. It is God in us.
“Be still, and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10) meant something entirely new to me. My existence was proof of God’s existence. He was right there, in me, all along, breath by breath. I now realize what an illusion it is to think that we somehow control our own mortality and live apart from God. Do you really choose your next breath?
“God the Lord, he … created the heavens, and stretched them out; he … spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he … giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein.” (Isaiah 42:5.)
The breath of life is more than a mere instinct. It is God in us. The very breath of life in us is Existence itself captured and condensed in broken, frail and feeble mortality. Our Existence means God wills and purposes us to live. Therefore, so long as you are breathing, there is beauty, meaning and purpose to your existence, whether you see it or not.
So I took another breath. And another. And another, each breath a reminder of God’s loving presence inside of me. And then I was filled with God’s overwhelming love. Actually, “filled” is a bad way to describe it. Yes, it was in me. But I was also surrounded and immersed in this atmosphere of love, as if in a womb or cocoon. And yet even that is an inaccurate description. It was more like the realization that in my nothingness love was reality. It was the atmosphere I breathed. Love was the foundation of reality.
You’ve never been in control and you never will be.
It is true that “in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28.) It is true that God is love. (1 John 4:8.) And having been reduced to my essence, my wonderful nothingness, I wanted nothing more than to share God’s love and to be the embodiment of love. I realized that I was part of God, that God is love and that I was built to love. This purpose is what sustained me through years of living without food, subsisting on a feeding tube.
When you are so broken and so weak that you can no longer hold on, you have no choice but to let go. When you let go, you look upon the fears and worries that tormented you and, suddenly, they are no longer a part of you. Instead, they’re like pirate ships drifting away on the sea of consciousness … and you just let them float off to the horizon because they are no longer a part of you. They are “out there.” In fact, they were never real to begin with. They were mere illusions, created by my refusal to embrace my innate worthiness and godliness, byproducts of my lustful pursuit of the illusory oasis of control and perfection.
Truth is, you’ve never been in control and you never will be. You’re never “perfect” in the way you think of perfection. If you give up, fail, lose, or whatever else you fear, you’ll keep breathing. So surrender the imaginary battle. Stop trying and repent. After all, repentance is nothing more than an awakening to your innate lovability and worthiness. It is re-discovering that lovable, innocent child of God you once were, filled with love, filled with a sense of wonder, filled with light and innocence, ignorant to fear and avarice. That child of God is still there inside of you and a new and hopeful world awaits you. But you must let go and die to discover that.
Each breath witnesses that you are an extension of the great “I AM.”
Now, like a newborn child, I sometimes feel a bit alien in this confusing world. I miss the cocoon. I miss the womb. It’s when I’m fighting the evil pirates out there, labeling who the bad guys are, and judging and assessing that I feel this way. That’s when I feel lost. But when I get back to my core purpose, when I put the things I’m trying to control out of reach and then reach out and love another person with real intent, I find God again. I feel that connection and closeness once more. I see the enemy pirate ships float away and then evaporate on the horizon once again and say to myself, “Why was I so worried?” “Home” really is where your heart is. Living love is living with God. It’s heaven on earth.
It’s the little things that keep me grounded in true reality. Buy lemonade from a kid at the lemonade stand. Compliment someone. Write a nice email or text to encourage someone. Give hugs. Pat someone on the back. Be courteous in traffic. Buy someone lunch. Just little stuff like that can keep you grounded in the reality of your existence and purpose. These things create atonement and connection.
You were built to love. That is your purpose. And living your purpose brings peace and happiness. That is why the breath of life persists inside of you. Each breath witnesses that you are an extension of the great “I AM.”