I was born to breathe, but shortly after I was born, I couldn’t.
My parents found me gasping for air in my crib. I was hospitalized and diagnosed with asthma. I was born to breathe, but I needed help to pull it off. When I would gasp for air, my parents would run to my bedroom to help me. Afterward they would try to sleep, but it’s hard for a parent to sleep when listening for the sound of their child’s breath.
My mom says that even after my condition improved I would still gasp for air. I had learned that the gasping sound my asthma made also resulted in Mama coming to my room in the middle of the night. So, according to Mom, sometimes I would intentionally make the sound, even after I was healed. I wasn’t really gasping for air; I was pretending to gasp for air because that sound led to Mom picking me up and rocking me back to sleep. I’d grow out of that right?
Fast-forward twenty years and I was gasping for air again. It was the summer after my sophomore year in college. I had my first full-time job and first bank account, I had rented my first house with a bunch of buddies, and I had just bought a ring for the love of my life. My pace was fast. I was leaning headlong into adulting, a term that had not yet been coined.
I woke up in the middle of the night and struggled to breathe. But there was no Mama to be found. I couldn’t catch my breath. My heart was pounding. I lay there for a few moments, but I couldn’t slow it down.
I drove to the hospital in my college town and walked into the emergency room lobby, and there I saw a pay phone. I called, who else? My mom. It rang once. It rang twice. And I hung up.
I felt so afraid.
The next morning I returned to my house, still breathing, still alive. My roommates were alarmed and told me my parents had been trying to find me. Mom and Dad had seen on their caller ID the phone number from the hospital in their son’s college town, and they were looking for me. Oops.
They came and got me and took me to the doctor. My childhood doctor did all the tests, and you know where this is headed (but I didn’t). The doctor told me my heart was fine, and my lungs were fine, and I wasn’t having an asthma attack. He called it something different—an anxiety attack.
I was twenty years old and I was afraid. I was gasping for air and I needed help.
At the heart of anxiety is a fear. This fear, whether acknowledged or not, is that we won’t be able to pull everything off…
Why don’t we take a breath right now? In and out. You will do that about 15 times in the next minute, about 300 times as you read this chapter, around 23,000 times today, and this year you will breathe 8 million times or so. This means if you live eighty years you will breathe some 700 million times.
When we are afraid, though, we breathe more. Well, sort of. We take more breaths—rapid and shallow ones. These breaths only take place in the upper part of the lungs, not engaging the lower part, where the real breath comes from. So we think we are taking more breaths, trying to get more air, but actually the more you breathe like that, the less you actually breathe.
These feelings are the same for us. If we could track the source of our fears and anxiety, we would uncover places of grief, responsibility too soon, a feeling of lack of readiness, and, yes, that deep sense that we don’t have what it takes.
Have you felt the fear of not being able to pull everything off? Welcome to vulnerability, my friends. In our vulnerability, we have the ability to turn to God, who calls us forward. If you don’t have what it takes to move forward, take a deep breath and call out to God. He will never leave you nor forsake you.