on breathing, or the lack thereof

I’ve been having trouble breathing for a week now. It’s maddening, this constant feeling of breathlessness — like I just ran up a flight of stairs. In the last couple of days I’ve been feeling lightheaded, like I might faint at any moment. I spend a lot of time sitting down, slightly hunched over. If my posture is too good I’ll start to cough, and that’ll lead to hyperventilation which in turn will lead to more coughing. There’s no winning in this cycle.

And oh, I’ve been to the doctor. I was diagnosed with pneumonia so I received pills and an inhaler in order to treat it, but it’s been four days now and I see no signs of retreating. The grand plans I have for semester break are at risk if my breathing doesn’t clear up — the air in Colorado is thinner than here so any problems will be exacerbated.

It’s awfully inconvenient. I thank God for teachers who are understanding of my illness and my resulting absences from their classes, but I wish to be in class. Even now my classmates are in Romans and I am here in my room, attempting and failing to control my breathing well enough to go back to class.

A girl in my hall is going through much the same thing and the other night we were both in her room, bemoaning our respective states of breathlessness. “I asked God to give me a verse,” she said, “and He gave me Psalm 150:6 — ‘Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.’ Okay Lord, you have a sense of humour.”

We both laughed about the irony of such a verse given our present states. I don’t know if she’s thought any more on that verse but it has not left my mind.

The full passage is as follows:

“Praise the Lord.

Praise God in His sanctuary,
praise Him in His mighty heavens.
Praise Him for His acts of power,
praise Him for His surpassing greatness.
Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise Him with the harp and lyre,
praise Him with timbrel and dancing,
praise Him with the strings and pipe,
praise Him with the clash of cymbals,
praise Him with the resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.”

I’ve always loved Psalm 150 because of its musical imagery, but since rereading it in more recent days I’ve come to love it for an entirely different reason.

“Praise Him for His acts of power, praise Him for His surpassing greatness.”

It can be so difficult to praise God in times of distress – be it sickness, worry, grief – it’s difficult to bring praise to God when we feel that we have nothing to praise Him for. But this Psalm lays out quite nicely for us a no-nonsense approach to praise – we praise God because He is worthy of praise. He is worthy of so much more than our weak human praise, but we will offer Him the best we can.

It doesn’t say “Praise the Lord because He keeps you healthy always.” It’s easy to praise God when everything goes our way. In fact, the danger of that is that our praise is not genuine, but is a sort of obligatory gratitude. But when everything is failing us – when nothing seems to be going our way, that is when our praise has the opportunity to be most genuine. I can see no good in the situation that I’m in now. I can’t breathe, I’m missing classes, I may not be able to go to Colorado.

But God is good regardless. We praise Him because His greatness surpasses all. We praise Him because He is powerful. However bleak my life seems right now, I praise God because He is great. I worship God because He is good. I praise Him because He has given me the very breath that I use to sing His praises, regardless of how weak that breath may be.

If my understanding of God’s goodness is dictated by my health, then my relationship with God is extremely one-sided and egotistical. God is good regardless of me.

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