Why You Must Put On Your Oxygen Mask First

Boarding an airplane is a bit like herding cattle. There are a bazillion people juggling babies, bottles, and bags that must be seated, settled, or stored in spaces the size of leftover Tupperware containers.

By NTSB [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Then, in the midst of all the chaos, the lovely flight attendant begins the “Emergency Oxygen Mask” speech. It’s something like:

  • “In case there is a sudden drop in cabin pressure . . .”
  • “In the event of an emergency . . .” (AKA, “When all hell breaks loose . . .”)
  • “Put on your oxygen mask FIRST, then help those who may need assistance . . .”

I recently heard this speech as my husband and I left for our second just-the-two-of-us vacation in six years of marriage. We were a bit overdue for time away. The cattle were herded, boarded, and informed on emergency procedures, and things quieted down. About an hour into our ten-hour flight, the plane cabin was nearly silent.

Surrounded by stillness, I felt increasingly restless.

A Journal Entry

After mulling through mindless magazines and munching on snacks, my mind continued to rattle with relentless, countless worries. I decided to journal—a practice I did daily years ago but somehow had fallen through the cracks. I wrote:

I don’t like what I’m feeling right now . . . restlessness, irritation, and a lack of focus. I’m not “in the moment” at all. I used to love silence, stillness, the soft look my husband-to-be offered as we were falling in love. When was the last time I slowed down to look deeply into his eyes? When was the last time I slowed down to look deeply at anything? Why am I always in a hurry—even now when I feel lost? That’s it: I feel lost.

Demands and duties are endless. Responsibilities and reasons to remain busy are constant. I blame myself for everything—pathetic. I don’t want to be a victim of circumstances. I tire of carrying the load—to where? I feel like I’m running in circles and becoming more lost. How did I get so far off-course? Worry consumes me. I worry about things I have no control over: about my son, about my work, about how to find balance, about where to find the time for the endless doctor appointments, and about daily deadlines.

Lord, life is too heavy. I need You to show me how to give You the weight (Psalm 55:22; Matthew 11:29). I can’t keep on like this.

I received no grand illumination of wisdom right after I put down my pen. I looked out the plane window and saw nestled below me fluffy clouds of nursery room colors—baby blue, soft yellow, a touch of lilac, pink blush—all painted by my sovereign and creative Lord. A sliver of hope broke through the stillness.

Pure Oxygen

After we arrived at our destination, I continued to journal throughout the week. Two main themes repeatedly showed up in my writing: worry and weakness. I felt like God had put on my oxygen mask, reminding me that I hadn’t breathed pure “oxygen” in quite some time. One evening, these words poured onto my journal page—no doubt, a Colleen-ized version of Matthew 11:28–30:

See, Colleen, when you finally get out of the way, it’s a win-win for both you and Me. You will feel better; your heart will not be burdened because you will know I have already made a way for you and those you love. I know Jon can’t make it on his own. Neither can you. When did you forget that in your weakness—and in Jon’s—you are strong (2 Corinthians 12:10)? This world is not yours; it’s Mine, so let Me take care of it as only I can do. I have allowed pain, and yes, pain will continue. You will not always have the answers, but when you come to Me, I will comfort you and give you peace. You are longing for peace, not just answers, anyway. Answers don’t satisfy a restless spirit; My peace and presence are the only things that will soften your soul (John 14:27).

Ahhh, the oxygen was flowing fully by week’s end.

By Unsplash.com (Free Image use)

By Unsplash.com

However, upon return home, the load of life landed upon my shoulders with full force. I started to panic, then remembered:

  • “In case there is a sudden drop in cabin pressure . . .”
  • “In the event of an emergency . . .” (AKA, “When all hell breaks loose . . .”)
  • “Put on your oxygen mask FIRST, then help those who may need assistance . . .”

Let Me Hear from You

How’s the pressure around you lately? Has the oxygen level dropped, making it difficult to breathe? Are there some issues you can’t figure out, but you’re determined to chase until you run out of air? What may seem like an emergency to you isn’t an emergency to our Lord. Running faster in the wrong direction will leave you breathless and exhausted. How about choosing one or two areas of life where you can use an oxygen mask—God’s presence for comfort.

Let’s take time to breathe in His truths and find rest in His care.

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  • VickiHD

    Colleen,
    You have the gift of perfect timing !!!!!! I had a feeling this morning that your weekly post would be just what I needed to hear today. Yesterday, well yesterday was one of those days…even oxygen would not have been able to help me. It was just a really BAD day. Your message today spoke to me directly as a reminder that we can not carry the load and problems of life on our own, and we will eventually break down if we think we can. But thankfully the one thing we can count on is God walking with us and being there when we relies that what we are doing isn’t working and we need to turn everything back over to HIM. Honestly, how many times do I need to be reminded of that ??
    I will say that today was much better and I am grateful for God’s grace today.
    I hope your healing from your back surgery is going well and that you are starting to feel good again.
    Thank you again for your wisdom that you share in your writing.
    Blessings,
    Vicki

    • Vicky,
      You are so great…I love hearing such honesty…we all have those BAD days. God’s timing is perfect and your heart was open to receive so that’s a win-win in my book. It’s funny that you say… “Honestly, how many times do I need to be reminded of that?”…I have said that throughout my adult life. When will we ever get it…in heaven. Until then, the truth is that we will have good and bad days, need reminders, and hope for God’s voice to be present and His presence to be comforting until we are with Him. So hang in there girl. SO good to connect with you today. Colleen

  • Janie Lane

    Great post and perfect timing. Don’t miss the treasure…

    • Janie,
      Love that statement…don’t miss the treasure! I’m learning to look for them in lots of places; life has slowed me down so I see them and am wondering why I didn’t learn this lesson sooner. Great to connect with you my friend. Colleen

  • L Allen

    Wow just wow!! Needed this today God says, ” I know Tabytha can’t make it on her own, But Lurlene, neither can you!!!!” Been so reminded of this concept this week. To the the point of me scouring the scriptures for promises to lean on and depend on and to claim, feeling like my hand was slipping out of His all powerful ONE, Only to have Him say, “Be Held”, stop striving, it is not going to change the outcome or the diagnosis.
    Walking one step at a time in complete darkness to me, but Psalm 139: 11-12 If I say, Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me. (love this) Even the darkness will NOT be dark to YOU;the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to YOU!! So no matter how dark it gets, I know HE CAN SEE!!!

    • L . . . how amazing that you would write what you did today. I was in a physical therapy appointment discussing the truth that we cannot do life on our own. Yes, there will be seasons when it is so dark we cannot see, and I believe the enemy wants us to think we CAN see and do whatever. The truth as you stated correctly is Christ is our light and goes before us at all times. It’s when life is totally dark we can recognize His light more clearly. I pray in this season, He lights your path and gives you confidence to walk through whatever because He is alive in you. God’s got you my friend, you will never walk alone. Wonderful to hear from you today. Most graciously, Colleen

      • L Allen

        Today’s devotion quote,goes with what you were saying; ” I have learned to love the darkness of sorrow, for there you see the brightness of His face.” by Madam Guyon (not quite at the love point yet but sure is a powerful quote!

        • L,
          What an amazing quote…and yes, I don’t particularly love the darkness but I know by trusting Him, He provides light. I’m so very thankful for your note…how are you doing? Colleen

          • L Allen

            Today and the past week;learning not to take my spiritual temperature. Its hard to just lean into His grace and let Him hold you!! Right now I can’t leave the house for more than an hour and only when she is sleeping. That’s rough, but I am learning to just let it happen. We seem to have it under control but it goes sideways so quickly if meds are missed by less than an hour. So, I am on constant nurse duty. Jeff preached on Paul’s affliction this Sunday. And until you have faced affliction that is not going to be removed you cannot know the full depths of “My strength is made perfect(at its strongest) when we are at our weakest.” Total dependence requires acknowledgment of our weakness. That’s hard when you are a person that pulls themselves up by their bootstraps. We have to rely on His ALL sufficiency in our complete lack of. Ok there is my mini preach at me today…more for me than you 🙂

          • L,
            WOW…just WOW! While our circumstances are different, this is the very lesson I have been learning for oh, let’s say MY WHOLE LIFE! But more specifically, this year. When our Father breaks us down to our raw selves, unable and impossible to alter circumstances He has allowed, it’s a total game changer. I’ve had to ask some hard faith questions…Do I REALLY, REALLY believe in my soul, not just my head, that HE is my Father and is good and faithful; am I leaning into Him fully without any doubt or disturbance; have I totally released this to Him so that my focus, thoughts, emotions, daily routine are not disrupted with irritation…trying to fix or change or control? You are so right, when we have been capable and able to do life pretty well, dependence is a choice of the will. Sometimes I see my son’s full dependence on us as a gift in that he doesn’t have an option…he just is dependent and falls into his needs without resistance because he truly CAN’T do what most of us can do without thinking. L, I so applaud your honesty, your willingness to grapple with these hard issues, to trust that you can express them without fear and be fully accepted. I so honor your authenticity and want to be part of your support team. If there’s any way I can pray specifically, please don’t hesitate to connect. Anything at all, just jot it down and know I will follow through. Thank you for allowing me into this space that feels fragile…we all are fragile and that’s A-Okay! Caring Much for YOU, Colleen