I’ve learned to take a breath before I speak. When I don’t, I often find myself in a quagmire of problems.
Our lives are stuffed to the brim with space-fillers. With tablets, cell phones, computers, and much more at our fingertips, we can access information and have multiple conversations at once. While e-readers and other screens emphasize the importance of white space for our eyes, we’re constantly sacrificing the white space in our lives. Less white space leads to an overcrowding that pressures us, and our conversations are no exception.
Every second of white space in time doesn’t need to be filled. When we feel the pressure to fill every moment, we’ll begin to anticipate the filling process, thinking of what we want to say next instead of waiting, patiently listening, reflecting, and respectfully responding in turn. Invite processing time. It will take practice, because you’re likely not used to it, and people with whom you converse are certainly just as unfamiliar with it. More white space in conversations creates a slower cadence, a rhythm that flows more than fires. When push and pull is replaced with intentional give and take, the focus can shift from the conversation itself to a respect for the people having the conversation. After all, the relationship is more important than the outcome of the conversation. Words spoken should be driven by the impact they have on the relationship instead of the influence they have on the outcome of the conversation.
Breathing helps as you talk, because it’s an intentional invitation to reflect before responding. As I breathe, I invite God to fill my mind, heart, and words, taking a moment to intentionally yield to him. While it takes some getting used to, it’s not as intrusive or distracting as you might originally think. Most people won’t notice at all. It’s not a deep, cleansing breath, just a regular breath in for oxygen—with an invitation for more nourishing, courageous, and powerful breath. If you find yourself still struggling to listen to the person instead of planning what you’re about to say, you can also use an exhaled breath as you’re listening as a commitment to empty yourself of your self, yielding to and trusting God instead. (Let me admit, I do not always yield well, so I’m not sharing these techniques as someone who has perfected it. I’m a work in progress!)
Inviting breaths into a conversation isn’t just about you. Invite breaths for the other person, too. When somebody pauses to think of a word or finish a thought, wait with them. You might anticipate what you think they’re going to say, but respect them enough to let them finish. It’s nice to be known well enough that someone can finish your thoughts, but it’s also nice to be given the space and time to finish your own thoughts.
Conversations are not a race; they’re an opportunity to engage in relationship. Invite the nourishing rhythm of breathing into your conversations today.
I will be in them and you will be in me so that they will be completely one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you loved them just as much as you loved me. (John 17:23)