Back in my young teen years, one of my younger sisters received a Strawberry Shortcake doll as a gift. This baby doll’s claim to fame was that she blew a kiss. The perfumed smell of that kiss matched the doll’s name: Apricot. Something about that Apricot doll’s blown kisses were just right for me. I was clearly too old for playing dolls, but whenever I saw it lying around I’d quick give her belly a poke and breathe in the sweet aroma. Years after we had all grown beyond playing with dolls, I recall finding Apricot in the dark, sometimes musty basement. I would make a beeline to her pressing the tummy once again filling the air with apricot delight.
One of the requirements of life is breath. Without conscious thought, our bodies breathe in and out somewhere between 12 and 20 times per minute. Over the course of a day, that adds up to 17,000-30,000 breaths per day — or more!* That is while we are resting. Start moving and we breathe in and out at an even faster rate.
Inhale. Exhale. Taking air in. Letting air out. Sweet smells.
In the Bible, Paul (the writer of many of the books in the New Testament) uses this imagery to describe what the followers of Jesus are like. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance of the knowledge of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14-15 The Message). Clearly, we don’t wear an actual perfume handed out at church once we decide to follow Jesus. So what aroma is it that we exude?
I’ve been reading through Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables for several weeks now and I stumbled across this powerful two word phrase. He described an open field one of the characters regularly visited as a place which exhaled grace. Exhaled grace. I have been turning that phrase over in my mind since then. As I consider Paul’s description of a Jesus follower giving off a beautiful aroma, I wonder if that aroma might be grace.
Smells assail my nose daily. Sharp smells of opinions, anger, and self-righteousness. Cold and musty smells of people walling themselves up after too many years of hurt. Undefinable smells of apathy, escape, and avoidance. Sometimes I get so used to those smells I hardly notice them. They have become part of the atmosphere…until I stumble across an exquisite fragrance.
I see a father reach for a daughter’s hand as they walk a few short steps into the corner store.
I watch a child show another child how the watercolor paint works.
I observe a man listen patiently to the same story for the fourth time that morning.
I see a frustrated friend slow down and work a process when she’d rather barge ahead.
I listen to a college student quietly redirect a kindergartner to try again rather than doing it for him.
And every time I smell it: exhaled grace.
It becomes a way I want to be. As natural as breathing. I want to exhale grace 12 – 20 times a minute, 30,000 times a day. So I get up in the morning and inhale grace. I read of Jesus in Matthew. I breathe in his words of life. I breathe in his loving actions to the beggar, the leper, and the blind. I breathe deeply as he speaks to the Samaritan woman at the well. I breathe in his embrace of the children. All that morning inhaling of the grace of Jesus fills me up to exhale grace the rest of the day.
And in those moments when the sharp, cold, stale air surrounds me, I stop and turn my soul back to the apricot aroma of Jesus. I inhale Jesus deeply and prayerfully and find the strength once again to exhale grace.
This type of inhaling and exhaling does not come as naturally as the air in and out of my lungs. It does, however, bring life. My soul begins to live in this breathing in and out of grace. No one lives on the inhaling alone. We need the inhale and the exhale. To keep our souls alive, we also need to take in the matchless grace of God and send out that grace to friends and neighbors. Jesus even said something about giving it out to enemies and those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-48).
Will you join me in this new way of breathing? We surely will not get it right all the time but sometimes just one whiff of an exquisite fragrance lifts our heads.
Inhale grace. Exhale grace. Repeat.
*Check out http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/how-many-breaths-do-you-take-each-day/ where I found these stats and for more info on breathing.