5 ways to breathe in a breathless world

Yesterday, I sat in the middle of plenty of time to write, dove down deep into my writing reserves, and all I came up with was one hand filled with sand, the other with water. Both slipped right through my fingers, nothing there to hold on to. The whole day went that way. Dinner, bedtime, evening. I was a portion there, a portion in the past, and a heavy portion in the future – a mind split up into too many pieces.

It was Monday. I can’t afford to have a Monday go that way.

What can we do when the sun rises up on all our good intentions but instead of giving the light we need to get our work done, it burns all the life right off the surface and scorches us down to the core? How can we breathe in our breathless worlds?

1. remember that productivity is not your god

We need to recognize our own uselessness sometimes. And not just recognize it and know it’s there, but to actually live it. To still the hands and close the eyes and know that really, we have nothing to offer alone. If we are unable to still and to close, sometimes the Lord is gracious to quiet us on his own terms in the form of a useless day. It seems a waste to me, but I believe he loves me enough to spend a whole day reminding me that productivity is not my god.

2. don’t confuse the urgent with the important

Urgent is bossy. Important is patient. Checking your email will not make it better. In fact, on the day when I’m grasping to be productive, checking my email makes it worse. A lot worse. Email feels urgent, but it is rarely important. Urgent things come in from outside and hop up and down on the ground of our souls, shaking us up until we  engage with them. Important things rise up from the convictions of our spirit and line the path of our lives with intention, purpose, focus, and heart. I need to know the difference. My family begs me to know the difference.

3. move toward community, not away

When I’m feeling breathless, my instinct is to retreat alone. Sometimes that’s needed and good. Often times for me, that is my way of grasping for control. Instead, I made a commitment to community nearly 11 years ago to move towards my husband, for better or worse. It doesn’t seem like an answer, but it is. Continue to move toward community. Two solitudes gathering together can be messy, needy, broken. But it can also bring life.

4. learn how to close the day

The hours dedicated to the work have come and they have gone. And now it’s time to enter in to the next season of the day. But I hang on. Oh, how tightly I hang on. Check one more email. Refresh one more page. Jot down one more item on the list. I don’t know how to stop. But I must learn. 

5. lift up your eyes

One useless day does not have to mean writer’s block for months on end or failure to meet a goal forever. It does not mean you are on the wrong track or chose the wrong profession or are hopelessly lazy. One useless day is simply that: one day. We usually see what we look for, so if you look for the gift in that day, if you dare to set aside your own compulsions, you might see this hilarious uselessness as a felt reminder of your own smallness. And oh, the blessed relief of my smallness! And so be small, and lift up your eyes to see where your help comes from.

How do you catch your breath in a breathless world?



  1. says

    surrendering to #5. that’s where it all lies for me. when i desperately try to breathe by clinging to all those other things that surround me, he draws me. woos me. lifts my eyes to gaze into His.
    it is only then that i can find my breathing space again.
    lovely words you have me thinking on this day. thank you for sharing them.

  2. Karen Sebor says

    Your words take my breath away. What a glorious gift you have expressing deep, meaningful thoughts! Thank you for sharing them with us. Sending you my “love” today.

  3. says

    Wow. What fantastic reminders. So important to keep perspective.

    I try to remind myself that God created me as a human being, not a human doing. And that the world will keep spinning even if I stop running on it. Sometimes we need to release productivity and remember our greater purpose.

    As an achiever, those words are easy to type, but difficult to live out.

    I may print out your post to keep on my desk. Each point is simple, profound, & beautiful.

  4. says

    I agree with Steph’s comment! That’s where my hope is found. I need to keep my heart receptive to where He is leading me everyday.

  5. says

    Oh, beautiful and timely. My Monday sounds a little bit like yours. I love this encouragement and hand holding you offer us. Thank you.

  6. says

    Emily, thank you so much for this. There are many times when I feel this way, and you are so right that looking up is the only way. Sometimes at the end of the day I go through (or write down) five good things about the day. In the end, even if nothing else got accomplished, I had my family close to me, I can depend on an ever-faithful Savior, and I (the oh-so-controlling I) am not in control.

  7. says

    I confuse urgency with importance on a regular basis which has me running around dealing with good when the best is left undone. And the last one? Yes, that one touches me – one who isn’t a writer, but a wife, mother, teacher. The Father cares and longs for me to come to Him. Your words touch deep today.

  8. Sharon O says

    When I feel overwhlemed and over loaded with ‘things’ I stop… breathe and slow down.
    I love the ‘urgent over the important concept’… such good thoughts today, thank you.

  9. Andrea says

    I am not a writer, but am living in my own “gotta get it done” place with other responsibilities. I know well that place of the hovering gnats swarming around saying “you should be doing, calling, organizing, working on, visiting….” And yet, I can’t. Can’t make it happen, muster up the will, find the clarity for where to begin. So I’ve been learning (as you’ve shared in the past,) to return to the NOW. “Lord, what do you want from me now?” This moment. Maybe it’s just to close the laptop, sit outside for a few moments and rehearse, out loud, who He is and who I am not. And then ask again, “Lord, what now?” And often, I can start something, though it may not have even been on my list of the urgent. And trust that this is what He has for me NOW. Shampoo, rinse, repeat, as often as necessary.

  10. says

    Thank you. My heart needed to hear these words this morning. I pinned the post so that I can go back to it for fresh reminding as needed.

  11. says

    Emily, the “move toward community” is where the Lord has me right now. He has pulled me out of a pit and I’ve had no choice but to call on the Body and trust friends with my deepest pains. They have all faithfully pointed me to Him and scripture. Sigh, so humbling.

  12. Ali says

    I thought I was the only one to have days (or weeks!) like that! Thank you, Emily, for sharing your heart so the Lord can touch mine. Even though we haven’t met, I feel as though we are kindred spirits!

  13. says

    “hilarious uselessness,” love that! A reminder to smile and laugh at our own smallness, at our own teeny tiny part in the Lord’s amazing design, at our own sense of vital important-ness. He is able. And we can relax in the comfort of that. Thank you!

  14. says

    prying myself out from under the comfort of the covers, sneaking as quietly as possible down the creaking stairs and stepping out into the darkness to look at the blanket of stars laid out for me in the quiet and the still…all to remember that not one word has failed of all His good promises.

  15. says

    I feel as though I am in a season of such days and yesterday was particularly so. I am so amazed at the way the Lord uses your words in such a timely way in my life. Thank you for faithfully writing in the difficult places Emily.

  16. says

    That bit about feeling like productivity is my god is so true! During a frustrating day when I can’t produce, I step back and remind myself that my moments of inspiration don’t come from me. I let go and go for a walk, resigning myself to simply appreciate the beauty of a day and to give love to others.

  17. says

    I love these reminders- thank you! I love playing piano, writing, reading the word, drinking tea, and going for a jog…these are all ways that also seem to help me “catch my breath” :)

  18. says

    I love what you said, don’t confuse the urgent with the important. Sometimes the unimportant things seem so urgent and take precedence. That is certainly something to keep in check. I tend to retreat when times get too busy. I need that communal time with the myself and God. Time of reflection and peace to pull myself back together. I’m not pulling way from my family. I end up being a better wife and mother when I do it. It is for them as much as for me…

  19. Patricia says

    “One useless day…does not mean you are on the wrong track or chose the wrong profession or are hopelessly lazy. One useless day is simply that: one day.”

    What a GREAT reminder! I’m pretty bad about falling into spirals like that–“one day” can morph into a global, all-encompassing failure seemingly in the blink of an eye sometimes. I can use that wonderful sentence like a rope to pull myself out when I start to slip down into that place.

  20. Donna Attaway says

    Emily, It is quite amazing that you are able to “see” these things at an age when your children are still young. Many of us much older are just now (I am certain) realizing these important truths you make today. As a person driven by my “to-do” list, i can so identify with you. Thanks for sharing your special gift “your writing” with us.

  21. says

    Wow. Emily, you are such a blessing! A spirit/soul sister. Love your blogs. So full of truth and heartfelt honesty and transparency. This post just hit a homerun with me! Amazing! Reading my thoughts. Journeying together. Be Blessed!!!


  22. Anna says

    I know what you mean about unproductive days. I think for me it is easy to feel that a day like that = I am a failure which is obviously ridiculous but working for myself it’s easy to be a harsh boss. I find I need to know from the One who made the day what He actually means it to be for. My idea of how much should be achieved I think is often far more than His.

  23. Joy says

    I had an unproductive day today. I feel like it was wasted, I beat myself up over it. So many things that I should/could have done but didn’t for whatever reason. Thanks, Emily, for the reminder that God is ultimately in control and working things out for His glory and His timing. That the spiritual life is not something that is achieved, but learned, unlearned, relearned, rinse, lather, repeat.

  24. says

    Thank you. I *so* needed this today, especially the last bit. I struggle with failure: not the fact that I fail, because I accept that as part of life, but the letting go of it and realizing that I can go on to succeed. I love your blog because you always seem to have words that are so needful in my life, and today you’ve just gone and done it again 😉

    thank you,

    thank you,

    thank you.

  25. says

    Swimming in the depths of uselessness… Allowing the cool waters of grace to soothe my weary soul…

    I have such a hard time with that.

  26. says

    I love this post, Emily! I especially need to work on “How to close the day”. Indeed, there is always another email to read, another sentence to write, another point to ponder. Thank you for the reminder that there is also another day … Lord willing.

  27. says

    I do this, too: “When I’m feeling breathless, my instinct is to retreat alone.” Though I do retreat TO my husband, but AWAY from so many others. And sometimes I need that. But, like you said, community is so important. Community refreshes.

    Thanks, Emily.

  28. says

    I read Acts 17:25 this morning, where Paul describes God as the one who “he himself gives life and breath and everything,” and I thought of this post, ways to breathe in a breathless world. It’s got me praising the source of living waters in a new way this morning. Thank you!

  29. says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this reflection! Over the past couple of months, I’ve felt God pushing me to be better with my priorities and how I distribute my time…and there are some days it feels like a never-ending battle. But it’s reminders like yours that I’ve found scattered through my weeks that remind me of God’s patience as I learn and grow…even if it’s one little tiny molecule at a time.

  30. says

    WOW!!! Your’e writing takes my breath away and puts words to everything that stirs on my heart and mind. I’m a SAHM with a one year old who feels called to write and pursue photography. So many days I feel are useless, yet I know that just because not everything was checked off my to do list that my day was unsuccessful. God is teaching me to look for and capture the beauty of everyday moments in order to see the details of His handiwork.

    I wish we lived closer so I could take you out for coffee and just talk to you. Keep writing…because even though maybe you didn’t get the writing done for your work, you created a encouraging blog post.

  31. Jeannie S says

    Love this! Love that productivity is not our god. Thank you for that reminder. When I feel like I barely made a dent in the day’s to do list, I remind myself I did accomplish something. God uses all things in ways we don’t realize. Blessings on you Emily!

  32. says

    I’ve been having what seems like a month of “a mind split up into too many pieces.”
    Thanks for all five of your reminders!

  33. says

    Why do you have to be so wonderful?!

    This week my monday was useless.

    I went to bed Sunday night with every intention to get a lot done, to start my week with a BANG, to be productive.

    But it turned out to be a pretty slow day. My short bible study turned into being 2 hours of reading and taking notes and then I somehow floated to our office where I started looking through old albums for another couple of hours and laughing my head off at all the memories.

    When I looked at the clock, it was time to get started on dinner.

    I felt like an utter failure, that I allowed a whole day to just kind of pass me by with no productivity but reading your post reminded that every once in a while this is not only okay but beneficial. It was a slow monday and surprisingly I really enjoyed it, I slowed down a bit and it was exactly what I needed. I guess God knew that. He put all my plans on hold and just had me float :)

  34. says

    I struggle with all of this….there’s always one more thing to do, even at 11pm.

    I try to spend time sewing (quilts, clothes whatever) to give me a bit of that time to breath. I can create and pray and think, while recharging and doing something productive.

  35. says

    This is one of those posts that I know my eyes were meant to read this week. Taking it all to heart.

    Thank you for your words, Emily.

  36. says

    This post washed over me and covered all the open, raw places in my soul. [I might have laid down and rolled around in it once or twice just to make sure nothing was missed.] Life lately has been filled with long, long work hours, questions of purpose and direction, and the haunting sense of failure that comes when #5 is forgotten, and a “wasted” day projects onto every day and every project in the future. Thank you for sharing your heart. I’m awful at breathing … some days I literally have to remind myself to take nice, deep breaths … and it wears on every ounce of my being. Reading this was truly a breath of fresh air, and I deeply appreciate your words.

    Tonight I ate yogurt for dinner and sat outside watching the wind. Perhaps that is how I breath in a breathless world :-).

  37. says

    These are all great and God inspired! The one that stands out to me is urgent vs. important. Recently I have felt the Lord dealing with me in this area because I too am familiar with that knawing feeling of urgency. This, for me, goes hand in hand with closing the day. I try not to check my email right before I serve breakfast, pick up the kids, or start bed time- it always distracts me, taking my mind elsewhere and I am learning that many things can wait!

    Thanks for the reminders!

  38. says

    exactly the words I needed to hear today. I was just writing a blog entry about relaxing and not rushing through life. God is working on that with me and I loved reading your thoughts! thank you!

  39. says

    This IS beautiful. #1 and #3 for me. I was so incredibly swamped the last 3 weeks that I just worked myself into a cave. I just came out and I’m concerned I may not have any friends after this :)

  40. says

    This post is just the gentle reminder I needed. #2 especially rings true right now- whenever I am running around trying to get things together, I still whip out my phone to check email- as if something requiring urgent response will have appeared in the last five minutes. This is the first post I have read on your blog and I look forward to reading more!

  41. says

    Just found your blog via this post, and can’t wait to read more. I love the urging to move toward community and not away. I plan to share this entry with a friend who could really need some reassurance right now. Appreciating your words…

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