Sometime in the spring of 2014, something went wrong one night and I couldn’t breathe lying down. I stayed up all night and didn’t sleep well for weeks. The doctors couldn’t find an actual problem and ended up just putting me on a high-powered medication for “heartburn” that was a “maintenance drug”— it covered the symptoms but never really cured anything.
In the fall of 2014, I had just graduated college and started my second internship at Southwest. I was planning a wedding and also trying to ensure the internship turned into a job. Mid-semester, I had to rush to the emergency room for what we thought was my appendix, and they sent me to a stomach specialist. He realized the breathing episode and these appendix-like symptoms were connected, and he diagnosed it as simply stress, as a form of hyperventilation. He took me off the medication and said I had to learn to relax, and he taught me to breathe differently if I felt the symptoms coming.
His cure worked. Now, a year and a half later, I’ve learned to slow down and take a deep breath in those times I feel like I can’t breathe. I’ve noticed trends—it happens when I get most overwhelmed, on those days when there’s been the most stress or change or overall busyness. I’m glad we found the solution, but still, at 21, I was far too young for that kind of health issue. Yes, I’m prone to worry more than most. But also, I think this is a byproduct of the world we live in—a busy, fast-paced world that doesn’t stop to wait for someone to catch their breath. In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster says, “In contemporary society our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in ‘muchness’ and ‘manyness,’ he will rest satisfied.” How ironic, that Satan will rest satisfied because he keeps us from resting enough.
Of course, resting by itself isn’t enough—we must rest in the presence of God. This is where the discipline of meditation, the first of the inward spiritual disciplines, comes into play. Foster writes that “meditation is the one thing that can sufficiently redirect our lives so that we can deal with human life successfully.”
When you think meditation, what do you think? Retreating to a camp in the mountains and sitting criss-cross applesauce and humming? That’s not what we’re talking about here. Foster writes that “Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind; Christian meditation is an attempt to fill the mind.” He defines Christian meditation as “the ability to hear God’s voice and obey his word.” This detachment from the world to reattach to God is the art of Christian meditation. Meditation is teaching yourself to concentrate on God instead of the worries of life.
Meditation can be meditating on Scripture, or meditating in prayer, or meditating on God’s creation, to name a few. It is taking the time to step back and be still, and to enter God’s presence ourselves, without a human mediator (like a pastor, “wiser” friend, etc.). It’s building a relationship with God yourself by training yourself to redirect your focus onto him.
So what about the logistics? Foster says that, at first, we will probably have to set aside specific time for meditation. We’ll have to make an effort to sit down with the Bible and really take it in, or focus on giving certain worries to God without picking them back up, or take a walk to concentrate on how magnificent God’s creation is. And eventually, through practice, meditation can, and should, become a way of life. Joshua 1:8 says we should “meditate on [Scripture] day and night.” Psalm 77:12 says, “I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deed.” Meditating on God and learning to direct our focus to him should become a priority, a daily (and hopefully more than once daily!) discipline.
Like I’ve learned to stop what I’m doing and focus on nothing except breathing deeply if I get too overwhelmed, we should learn to meditate—to be still and know that he is God (Psalm 46:10)—in the busyness of daily life. We should be able to stop whatever we’re doing and center our focus on God. It takes practice. You’ll have to study meditation more yourself, because there’s no way it will fit in this little blog.
But if we can train ourselves to tune out the hurry of this world to listen for our God, if we can really learn to turn our full focus to him throughout our busy lives, think of everything we might hear him say. Think of what it would be like to clear the clutter that worries us and holds our attention, and instead to hear that “still small voice.” Think of what it would be like to truly walk in an ever-growing relationship with Jesus, and to actually hear him (and discern his voice) when he speaks to you.