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In my recent hospital stay I was given a plastic breathing machine to exercise my lungs. This is a simple measuring gadget with a hose. When you exhale strongly enough, a small disc rises in its chamber to various numbers, and if you are allowed to do this at home it will immediately become a competitive game among your children. Even your grown children. (Be sure to sanitize the mouthpiece!)
But deeply breathing and fully exhaling is more than a way to keep your lungs fit. It’s a reminder that we need to breathe out all the air in our lungs. So often we think the most important part of breathing is the inhale. Get that oxygen, right? But we forget that if we take shallow breaths we don’t exhale all the stagnant air, and then we can’t inhale enough good air. Singers and athletes have found that holding in oxygen for too long makes them feel as if they’re drowning. The solution isn’t to gasp for more air, but to fully exhale the stale, useless air, and empty our lungs. Now we’re able to breathe in adequate oxygen.
According to experts, the ideal way to breathe is not to forcefully push air in and out, but to allow an easy rhythm to develop, in which we naturally exhale all the carbon dioxide, and then allow oxygen to flow back in, effortlessly. This also reduces stress. Think of the times you have sighed with relief—you’ve released your breath and felt calm after a tense moment. Now think of the times you have gasped with sudden worry. Our bodies know that inhaling is the key to getting energy, but exhaling is the breath of tranquility.
And, yes, there’s an object lesson here. When we receive service—and when we give service—we connect with other people and with God. I was so grateful for the flowers, the messages, the gifts, and the meals I received after my surgery. Talk about a wonderful oxygen intake! Inhaling a glorious fragrance and eating a delicious meal made me feel energized and grateful for caring loved ones. What a blessing!
But now, replenished, it’s my turn to give back. I need that easy rhythm, the swing of the pendulum in both directions. We need the back-and-forth for love to grow, for peace to blanket us. And we need to show God we love him by loving his children. This is also why we need to allow others to serve us, so they can grow closer to their Father in Heaven, and feel His approval of their gifts.
And we don’t always have to tie this to surgeries or major events. One of us needs to open our heart to those we trust, and share an emotional burden. Then the other one needs to be a listening ear, a true confidant, a loving friend. Or perhaps one of us needs parenting advice and someone else is the perfect person to offer wisdom. One person grieves, another understands. The needs are as varied as our fingerprints, no two alike. And the servers, like an army of angels, must rally to demonstrate real love. This is how we can best hope to keep one another in the fold, in the family, and on the covenant path.
In Hebrews 12:12, and in D&C 81:5 we are told to “lift up the hands which hang down.” I love this imagery because I’ve been that weak, that discouraged, that spent. I’ve felt my shoulders droop with grief, my hands feel too tired to lift them. When someone reaches out—even in the smallest way—we grasp that gift and hang on. Like oxygen, it replenishes our hope to go forward. And then when we pass that love along, we feel the deep contentment that should follow, the exhale of peace.
Breathing is an autonomic reflex; it happens all day and night without our attention. But, if on occasion you remember to exhale completely and then refill your lungs with fresh air, maybe you’ll think of the service analogy. Perhaps you will be both humble enough to accept service, and generous enough to offer it.
Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.