Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Life of Breath

by Sarah Van Diest @SarahVanDiest

We know this to be true. When we stop breathing, we stop living. There is no life when breath is absent.

It’s allergy season here in Oregon, and other places, too, I’m sure. And because this winter was Portland’s wettest on record, there is now no shortage of growing, blooming things. 

An afternoon doing simple gardening can turn into a night of sneezes and snores. Last night was a perfect example.

You know you are truly stuffed up when even breathing through your mouth becomes difficult. I shall spare you the unpleasant details, but suffice it to say I was overrun with my body’s opinion of how I had spent my day. I suppose it was trying to wash away all evidence of my afternoon’s activities in the great outdoors.

As I tried to relax into sleep, attempting to ignore the struggle to breathe, I was compelled to surrender to the truth that mind-over-matter just wasn’t going to make it better. Believing you can breathe because you wish it doesn’t shrink the membranes in your nasal passages!

It was time to take action.

Following a dead-of-night failed attempt at using my Costco “netty pot,” I turned to a chemical solution. I don’t like taking medicine. I don’t like feeling drugged. But more than that, I like breathing. So, I drank those wonderful two tablespoons of colored syrup and was breathing and asleep in 40 minutes. (Weird dreams and all, it was a decent night’s sleep.)

Maybe because of the medicine or maybe because I was just that tired of not getting to breathe, I drifted off thinking about the passage in Ezekiel where God breathed life into the lifeless.

In Ezekiel 37, God brings Ezekiel to a valley full of bones, dry bones. In other words, there is no longer flesh attached to these bones, no hearts still caged in the ribs, no muscles or tendons or skin—just bones tossed into a valley like trash. But God asks Ezekiel if these bones will live again and tells him to prophesy saying:

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

In the vision, those dry bones assembled, rattling and making noise, then tendons and flesh covered them, but still they had no life. God told Ezekiel to speak to breath itself and tell the four winds to come to the bodies and breathe life into them. So when breath came to them, they all stood up, as a great army, full of life.

The vision was for Israel describing their sad state of hopelessness. They were lost and scattered, their faith shattered and dry. But God came to them through the prophet Ezekiel and gave them this hope of life through his spirit. His spirit would breathe new life into their nation, his people.

The story of Israel is one we relate to. Their path is not unlike our own. There are times of great joy in obedience and relationship with God, and times of deep sorrow and shame in rebellion and waywardness. Sound familiar? And what was true for Israel in their lost-ness, is true of us. Our Father seeks us out, faithfully, and offers new life through his spirit, no matter how dead we believe we are. We can live again. Our faithlessness is never incurable.

I love the repetitious talk about breath in this passage. When God tells Ezekiel how to prophesy, he tells him twice how his breath will come into the dry bones and cause them to live again:

I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life.”

And then when the prophecy is made and the bones come together, and flesh covers them, breath has to be called out again to fill them and bring life. This kind of repetition is about emphasis, a way to bring attention to something. When we see that in Scripture, we ask why.

The answer is in the text.

I think it is noteworthy to mention that God speaks directly to the bones calling them “you,” recognizing perhaps their potential, addressing them with a sense of humanity even without life in them yet. He sees value and worth in what had been cast into a valley as garbage, useless and lifeless. God’s eyes see with much more graciousness than my own, though I think he simply sees what he sees.

Then God causes the bones to assemble, and for muscle, sinew and flesh to cover them so that the bones now look like bodies, but he stops short of filling them with life just yet. —Does that picture resonate with you as it does with me? We can pull ourselves together and fully look the part, but have no life in us, for there is not life apart from God. It is God who gives life, not our bodies. It is God who gives life, not ourselves.

The reason God gave for why he did things this way is this, “…and you will know that I am the Lord.”

God is life, and he wants us to know he is the source of all life. He gives breath to our bodies and hope to our hearts. All that lives relies on him for life and even for each and every breath. There is a tremendous sense of awe that comes when we recognize this truth. And God desires that we do recognize this. I believe it is more than just a desire of his that we praise him, though it brings him joy to hear our praise, but I also believe he knows it is best for us when we know and remember he is our source of life.

There is something right about the “created” knowing and remembering what it is and where it came from. There is a profound understand of worth embedded in the idea of being created intentionally. Forgetting that we were made, and made very much on purpose, leads to the ultimate conclusion that we were instead just some happy (or not so happy) accident. There is little value intrinsic to an accident.

So, today, as you go about your life, breathe deeply. Remember the source of each breath, and know that he seeks you out even when your bones are dry and you have forgotten your sense of value. And praise the Father for the life he has given you.


Educated as a teacher, Sarah taught school for nearly 20 years. As a young woman, she lived in China amid the rice paddies and water buffalo near Changsha, and then later taught English in Costa Rica for four years and raised her two sons. 

Sarah is married for the second time, the mother of 2 boys and the step-mother to 3 more. She and her husband, David, work together in their agency The Van Diest Literary Agency. Her full name is Sarah Ruth Gerke Van Diest. She’s 5’5” and cuts her hair when stress overtakes her. 

She is a freelance editor (including a New York Times and USA Today bestseller), blogger (The Write Conversation) and writer for hire. Her first book releases with NavPress in 2018. 


  1. A great reminder that no matter how much WE do, it's still HIS touch that is most important.

    1. Amen, Molly Jo! Thank you and many blessings to you!

  2. Yes, yes, and amen! Thank you for this awe-inspiring reminder, Sarah. Your grounded perspective rings fresh in this sometimes weary soul. When I see your name here, I know I'll never be quite the same again.

    P.S. As a fellow allergy sufferer (3 shots a week) I would love you to PM me the name of the colored syrup!

    1. You are such an encourager, Cathy! Thank you for your kind words!

      I will send you a Facebook PM about the colored syrup!
      Blessings, sweet lady! And may you sneeze very few times today!

  3. As one dealing with asthma, I take breathing very seriously. ☺ I enjoyed the good thought and reminder...

  4. Oh my. Yes, breath is so important!!! Blessings, sweet lady!