As I reached the top my daughter saw my labored breathing. I told her I felt sick and thought I was going to pass out, to which she replied: “Mom you’ve just got to breathe.”
Not far from our home is what we have come to affectionately refer to as – The Incline – 200 steps and 170 feet of elevation. We have climbed this wall of stairs on multiple occasions and this last week was nothing new. My experience always seems to be the same no matter what my physical condition. I don’t know if is my fear of heights, weird painful heart anomaly, or the fact I had already put in a fairly extensive morning workout; but my head always seems to start spinning and my stomach starts twisting just as I reach the top.
Lessons in Snorkeling
This week the whole process brought back memories from almost 30 years ago when I was a student studying abroad in Israel.
One of our many field trips had landed us in the small town of Eilat, on the beaches of the Red Sea. We each were given a snorkel, flippers and brief instructions to keep our distance from the coral; and then left to explore on our own. Having never snorkeled or even experienced the painful beauty of coral, I ineptly worked my way into the water. I quickly witnessed another student with blood running down his leg – the result of getting too close to the coral.
With that image in my mind, I soon found myself half enjoying the beautiful colors of the underworld, and half worried about where I was in relation to the beach. I suddenly became aware that I had drifted above a huge coral reef which was quickly becoming dangerously close to the surface. The biggest problem was not having enough depth in the water to stop floating and get my bearings. I HAD to snorkel to move away from the coral without knowing which direction would move me away the most quickly.
One important thing to know about snorkeling is residual carbon dioxide builds up in the tube when the snorkeler doesn’t take deep cleansing breaths. The results can make a person feel lightheaded as she hyperventilates. The shallower my breath the worse the feeling got. It was as if someone was putting a pillow over my head and I couldn’t get enough oxygen. All these years later I still vividly remember the panic in trying to get away from the coral, and the great desire I had for air.
The Science of Oxygen
Obviously, air – or oxygen – is the most vital element that our physical bodies need to live. We can go weeks without food, days without water, but only a few minutes without air. Breathing oxygen sends fuel to the cells in our body, and without enough we become more susceptible to illness and disease. In an article published by Rush University Medical Center, I learned that our regular daily activities only push our lungs to about 50% of their capacity, what they really need to thrive is movement and activity.
By pushing and challenging our lungs with more intense activity our bodies are better able to reduce the build-up of toxins and cleanse themselves, improve lung performance and increase oxygen levels in our blood which improves energy (Rush University Medical Center). As I contemplated the physical effects of oxygen for my body I started to wonder what the equivalent of air for my soul would be.
Faith is a substance much like oxygen. To the naked eye it cannot be seen; yet, when I exercise my faith in Jesus Christ I can feel it in every cell of my body. Still, learning to exercise our faith is a difficult process to explain. Some would say you just do it – and that is easy when life is moving along smoothly. It is when we feel fear, sorrow, pain, and discouragement that faith begins to be a little more difficult to understand or “just do;” yet, that is exactly what faith requires of us. To do, to act, and to be. I have found four key principles in exercising and building my own faith.
Learn wisdom, learn patience, and learn to trust God and His desire to help us grow. The greatest place to learn more about faith is in the scriptures. Immersing ourselves in the scriptures and developing a sincere desire to understand opens a conduit to knowledge. Similar to learning “line upon line” as the scriptures teach, moving forward in faith will help make your faith stronger.
Seek the Spirit
The Holy Ghost is a remarkable teacher. When we live in a way that invites His presence we will be taught. Our capacity will be increased.
The scriptures teach us to pray always. The Lord provides spiritual oxygen and support if we are willing to open the door and receive His divine assistance.
“Be still and know that I am.” (Psalms 46:10) Life is loud and busy, and it is easy to forget to stop and make time to listen. Be sensitive to the quiet promptings you receive, and then move forward with faith.
We are not alone as we face the difficulties of life. It is Christ “who bears us up when we need more air to breathe or direction to follow or even more courage to continue”(Zwick). As we push our spiritual capacities in exercising our faith, we reduce our buildup of spiritual toxins, improve our soul’s ability to endure life’s hardest trials, and become revitalized through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
My daughter’s counsel to “Just Breath” brought my physical body relief as I took deep cleansing breaths. As we breathe in faith and blow out fear, our souls can be strengthened, uplifted and inspired.
How do you replenish your faith?
Rush University Medical Center. “Keeping Your Lungs Healthy.” https://www.rush.edu/health-wellness/discover-health/keeping-your-lungs-healthy
2 Nephi 28:30, Isaiah 28:10.
W. Craig Zwick. “The Lord Thy God Will Hold Thy Hand.” Conference Report, Oct. 2003, 36–38; or Ensign, Nov. 2003, 34–36.