Breathe deeply before assisting

I didn’t realize when I became a bishop that I’d spend enough time on planes to memorize

virtually all of the “uniformed crew members safety instructions” for airline travel. One of the things that continues to strike me is the emphasis on proper use of the oxygen mask. Next time you fly, you’ll be told (again) that, “in the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will drop down in front of you. Should this happen, proceed immediately to place the mask over your nose and mouth and tighten the elastic strap. Breathe normally. Oxygen is flowing even if the bag does not inflate. If you are traveling with a child, be sure to place your own oxygen mask on before attempting to assist your child.”

That’s pretty counterintuitive for a parent—if there’s a crisis, the instinctive response is to care for the child first. Yet if you don’t get oxygen first yourself, you may not be able to help the child at all.

In my experience, most rostered leaders and PMAs are more like parents than we’d care to admit. We’re willing to give of ourselves without a second thought, particularly in a crisis. That’s admirable, even Christ-like, to a degree. Yet too many of us act this way not only in crises but in too much of our daily ministry.

We give of ourselves in visitation, in worship preparation, in teaching, in crisis response, perpetually trying to connect hurting or seeking or doubting or uncertain people to the energizing breath of the Holy Spirit. If we’re honest, though, most of us are way too comfortable bypassing our own deep breathing of that Spirit in order to help others experience it. Too easily, our souls can become Spirit-deprived in the process. Sooner or later, we’re not going to be able to connect others to the Spirit’s breath because we’ve not been connected ourselves.

This is why I’m such an advocate for Spiritual Direction. It’s not that I enjoy it—to tell you the truth, I don’t, at least not until well after the fact! It’s such an intimate experience of becoming vulnerable, not so much to another human being, but to God—who shows up every time I slow down, follow direction and wait.

In that vulnerability, that honesty before God, the soul is opened up to the heart-enriching breath of the Holy Spirit. When that’s happening regularly, we can help others experience it as well. When it’s not, well–the soul deprived of Spirit, like the brain deprived of oxygen, can become disoriented and eventually shut down.

On the other hand, when it breathes deeply of the Spirit, the soul can experience discernment, direction and renewed vitality. The soul is again restored and ready to serve.

We are blessed in the Nebraska Synod to have access to the tremendous gift that is Seeking the Spirit Within, and the many directors and resources it has prepared. It’s right here, as close and convenient as a drop-down oxygen mask. So take advantage. Make a contact. Find a spiritual director.

And take a trip from a traveler, a fellow sojourner in faith: the best way to be available to others in their need is to ensure that you don’t neglect to attend to your own. Take the time to care for your soul, that you may serve well those among whom God has placed you.