The Space to Breathe

April 30, 2019 | Written by Erin Ahnfeldt

I need to breathe.

It’s April, so the essays are pouring in with only a few weeks to grade them. There are exams to write, grades to enter, emails and phone calls to make to parents whose kids need a little extra push at the end, and all of that is coming from a job I love but one that’s currently drowning me.

What about being a dad? Of course I’ll be at my son’s track meet, and when my daughters are playing soccer, I’ll be on the sidelines cheering. They’re a priority; they’re precious to me.

What if I also want to show up for the kids in Young Life? If I’m going to build relationships with them, I’ve got to go to the Monday night meetings, and if they want to go to camp, shouldn’t I be available for that too?

In the midst of my tornado of priorities, there’s a woman. She watches me reach out to grab those invitations to do more, trying to maintain some semblance of sanity, and occasionally, she’ll ask, “What about me?” Sometimes I wonder where I’m going. When I lose myself in that tornado, she brings me back, and we go on a walk or at least make time to sit and talk, but sometimes that doesn’t even happen because the kids have homework and practices.

I need to breathe, so like every teacher in April, I look toward June and hold on as the roller coaster hits those last few bumps.

A couple of weeks ago, I took the day off. Something had to give, so I gave up a day of teaching to watch my daughter present her Alexander Hamilton project, and then I headed over to the library to find a place to write. I wanted to finish a chapter I was writing from what is still a very unfinished book, yet another invitation begging for my attention.

My fingers rested on the keys, ready to go, ready to use the sweet time that was suddenly available. With the minutes ticking away, I stared at a paragraph that needed fixing. The cursor blinked at me as if to say, “I’m waiting. Don’t blow this chance!” But the ideas weren’t coming. The pressure to make something happen, to come up with some kind of magic before time ran out was paralyzing. I’d type, read what I’d written, and drop my head in my hands grumbling at myself. The perfectionist in me couldn’t be satisfied, so I’d erase it all and type some more, only to find myself grumbling again. Knots twisted and churned in my stomach until I felt physically sick.

Minutes flew by, and in the middle of another screen-staring session, a woman came to the door smiling. She poked her head in through the door whispering “My turn”, and I wanted to scream. My two-hour slot was done, and I got nowhere. Grabbing my computer, I walked through the library doors to my car.

The sun was warming the afternoon and birds were singing, but there was a storm raging inside me. All week, I knew I’d have that time to write, and when I finally got it, I blew it. “Keep it together,” I thought to myself.

My parents would be ringing our doorbell, smiling, ready to enjoy a great dinner before heading off to the Good Friday service, and I didn’t want to ruin it, so I stuffed that storm on my way home. The doorbell did ring, and I smiled back at my parents smiling at me. As we talked and passed the plates of food, the library nightmare faded. It was deep inside me like the fish and brownies we ate.

A pile of garbage laying at the foot of the cross.Eventually, we walked through the doors of the church, late as usual. Someone whispered something about trash and a sharpie, so we picked up some cardboard from the pile and made our way to some seats.

Rowland spoke about brokenness. The cross stood there in the middle of all of us, and I stared at it. When Cindy brought up the title of the service, “The Great Exchange,” everyone knew what was coming, and before all the instructions were given, I knew what I needed to write. Emotion came surging up from that storm I stuffed.

The God who sees was putting His finger on it. Right there in that room, filled with all those people, He was doing something. Uncapping the sharpie, I wrote on the cardboard, “I can’t do it. I can’t come up with the right words, the creativity, the insights. I need you to do it all, Jesus.” We got up and walked toward the cross. The closer I got, the harder it was to see. Tears filled my eyes as I watched each person add another piece of trash to the pile.

Then I realized why God put his finger on that storm; He agreed with me. I can’t do it, but He can.

And He wasn’t just addressing my writing. God was putting His finger on all of it, all of those invitations to do more swirling around in my tornado. Didn’t Jesus say, “It is finished”? Wasn’t it at the cross that His “doing” gave us the freedom to stop “doing” and start “being” loved, forgiven, and healed?

I dropped that piece of cardboard in the pile with all of my meager attempts to be a good dad, husband, Young Life leader, teacher, and writer, all the pressure to “do” what I can’t possibly do without Him.

That tiny piece of cardboard held the weight of it all, and I left it there, holding the wine and bread in my hands.

1 Thessalonians 5:24 says, “The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.” Walking away from the cross that night, I found the space to breathe. My “great exchange” had been made; the “doing” would be God’s, and all the knot-tying stress that goes with it, so that I could embrace the peace that comes in “being” His.

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8 thoughts on “The Space to Breathe”

  1. I love this Aaron. You continually see the God moments in your day-to-day and it is a reminder for ME to look for those moments in mine. Thank you for allowing me to join you on this journey. A thought. I have a mentor/co-worker that is near retiring. He is a an “administrative patriarch” at our Christian org and has been at it nearly 40 yrs. He retires DeCoste 31 at age 72. I asked him recently what he is most looking forward to in retirement and his answer was simple and profound. “To stop DOING and start BEING.” I love that. Something I could stand to do a bit more of myself. 😉

    • It is so good to have people who walk with us on our journeys. I’m thankful to have you by my side, Matt. And I love that idea of retirement as a time to stop “doing” and start “being”.

  2. This brought tears to my eyes this morning. My calendar for all that I want to “do” is taking over myself. The thoughts were rushing into my brain as I scroll the full weekend events feeling bad that I once again won’t be able to get together with friends. This story reminded me to leave my cardboard at the cross and just be. Thank you.

    • Thanks for reading Tracey! I’m so glad it was an encouragement. I know that feeling all too well when I look at my schedule for the weekend and see that it’s already full. My heart just sinks. We definitely need Jesus to helps us carry it all. God bless, and enjoy “being”!

  3. Oh, Erin, I’ve certainly been where you are in the writing process. God WILL show up, and you’ll find yourself typing furiously just to keep up with Him!! God bless you–and summer’s coming!!

  4. I am sorry for taking so long to read this but I finally did this morning. With two deaths in the family a couple months apart I have been feeling like I was loosing it also. I also have a short story that I am writing about my mother-in-laws button box. She happened to be one of the people that passed away at the age of 101. As I was reading your story about not getting to the writing also reminded me that I haven’t gotten back to that story. Thank you for the story and realizing that worrying about too much is not God’s way. We forget that he has control and that we should be patient and remember that he is ultimately in control.

    • Hi Melinda. It’s so good to hear from you! I am sorry to hear about the deaths in the family. I hope you’re finding some space to process all of that. It’s so tough, in the midst of the grind, to actually find the time to let God calm our hearts. And you’re right about God being in control. It’s just a matter of really believing that’s true and resting in it. That part is hard for me.


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