March 17, 2021
For sighing has become my daily food;
my groans pour out like water.
Have you ever experienced what Job is describing here? Have you ever caught yourself sighing or moaning without meaning to? Maybe after a really tough day at work, you sit in your car and breath a big sigh – not of relief, but of sadness. Or for those of us past a certain age, rolling out of bed causes a stifled groan whether we want to or not. I remember one afternoon, in the middle of a particularly bad migraine, waking up to the sound of someone moaning and realizing it was me. I was in so much pain I was even groaning in my sleep. In another instance, in the depths of struggling with depression, I cried for almost an entire day. I simply couldn’t stop. I did all my normal things that day – I fed the animals, brought in firewood, tackled the never ending list of farm chores – but I cried the entire time. And it wasn’t a “manly” single tear rolling down my cheek either. I was sobbing aloud as I walked around the farm.
In both those examples, and as Job describes, pain and suffering were too big to stay inside. They had to spill out like water. Maybe you’ve never experienced something like that. But if you have, or are, I’d like to share a coping strategy that’s been very helpful for me. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating, especially in light of the example Job gives us.
There’s a particular way of praying that is called “breathing prayer” or “the Jesus prayer.” I’ll explain how to do it, and then why I’ve found it so helpful. The entire prayer lasts only for a breath, but you pray it over and over. On the intake of breath, pray:
“Jesus Christ, Son of God”
And as you exhale:
“Have mercy on me, a sinner”
Invite God to fill you as you inhale, and release your worries, fears, pain, or uncertainty into his hands as you breathe out. Repeat, repeat, repeat. It’s not complicated, and it echoes the sentiment of John the Baptist who said in John 3:30, “He (Jesus) must become greater: I must become less.”
Here’s why I find it helpful. When I’m worried or hurting, sighing aloud is going to happen. My pain will eventually overwhelm my ability to squash it down or ignore it. Instead of my suffering taking the lead, the Jesus prayer allows me to sigh with purpose and as an act of surrender. Most remarkably, the Jesus prayer became my habit in times of stress. I found it easier to pray in response to suffering (mental or physical) than to try and cope in other ways. When I awoke in the middle of the night and my mind started to ramp up with worry, prayer would fill my breathing rhythm and I would find peace. If an unexpected problem arose during my day, I would quickly slip into prayer, inviting God to fill me with His hope and love.
It’s not a magic bullet for pain, and it certainly takes practice, but it’s a prayer that allows us, especially when we are suffering as Job described, to draw close to God.