Saturday morning starts with an hour or so of reading in my sunroom office, settling in to spend the day at home. John puts muffins in the oven, our son Luke lines up small airplanes along the edge of the carpet, and our girls are occupied in their bedrooms upstairs.

Emily P. Freeman - Chatting at the Sky

I finish David Benner’s The Gift of Being Yourself, thinking long and hard over his words in chapter six: “Our calling is therefore the way of being that is both best for us and best for the world.”

I write those words down, share them on Instagram, watch out the window as the sun gently wakes the yard.

And then, like a wild animal leaping from the bushes in a still forest, a high-pitched beeping pierces the quiet with a robot-woman voice shouting: “Fire, fire, fire!” I’ve not heard our smoke detector go off before and didn’t realize it had a voice. She continues to shout from the hallway, monotone and maddening.

The girls rush down from upstairs, panic all over their faces, and I keep on reading my book, thinking John will take care of it because I am a responsible grown up.

But when I hear no movement in the kitchen and the loud robot fire alarm voice continues to say fire, I feel like maybe I should get up.

When I get there, I see the kitchen is slightly smokey, but nothing to be too concerned about. I glance in the oven at the baking muffins, and sure enough on the bottom I see two small charred remnants of last night’s french fries. Like tiny black cigars, they offer a steady stream of foggy smoke that fills the oven, leaking into the room.

After removing them with my oven mitt, I grab the nearest stack of school papers from the laundry room desk, march toward the beeping, talking smoke detector and fan the air in front of it — my mad attempt to quiet her down.

Finally she stops, and the house is once again quiet, with the only hint of excitement now dancing in Luke’s wide eyes. “Is there a fire?” He asks, strange mix of hope and terror.

“There’s no fire,” I say, “only smoke.”

It’s easy to neglect caring for those things we cannot see, like two lone french fries escaped to the bottom of the oven. It isn’t until they start to smoke that we go looking for fire.

Our inner life hums quietly beneath the surface, speaking only to those who make space to listen.

For nine years I’ve been writing at Chatting at the Sky with the tagline creating space for your soul to breathe and I feel like it’s taken me this long to begin to understand what that means.

Emily Freeman -

If our souls aren’t given a little room to breathe, they will suffocate beneath the heavy pressure of our fast-moving world.

Even if we don’t fully understand the workings of the soul, even if we aren’t able to eloquently define it, we all most likely recognize the evidence of a soul that needs attention — anxiety, loneliness, unexplainable anger, discontent.

So January is nearing an end and maybe that means all those expectations you wrote down are feeling less motivating and more paralyzing.

Instead of being discouraged by that, maybe this overwhelm is your smoke. The discouragement doesn’t arrive to shame you into doing more but to remind you to do less.

Maybe this heaviness is your soul trying to tell you something important.

Maybe you’ve tried hard to systemize your schedule but in the process, you’re suffocating your soul.

May we have the courage to walk with our friend Jesus into the fog, to follow the smoke no matter how thick it feels, and to ask Him to show us the source.

  • Bev Duncan @ Walking Well With God

    It’s the accumulation of small things (more and more burnt fries on the bottom of the oven) that eventually causes a fog and smoke so thick that I can’t breathe. My condition of being discontent is a reminder that, as you say, my soul needs attention. I have found that when I step back and do less instead of more, God is able to draw near because I’m not spinning like a top, and when there is more of Him and less of the world, contentment returns to my soul. Thank you for the analogy this morning that so typifies our lives and hope that things can be different.

    • emily p freeman

      You’re so welcome, Bev. All those small things are really all life is, right? That’s what I’m learning, anyway.

  • Ifeoma Samuel

    Hi Emily, Thanks for this reminder. It is easy to suffocate ourselves with the need-to -dos and the target we set for our goals to be achieved.
    I am glad the month is coming to an end. It simply means I have another month to try to achieve those things that I have to do. I don’t need to beat myself up but I need to simply try harder or work smarter.

    I am relying on the Grace God has given me this year.
    God bless.

    • emily p freeman

      Dear Ifeoma – I hope as this new month begins that you are able to rest deeply even in the midst of what is undone. I’d like to join you in that – to take a real rest (as Sally Breedlove has said) by “allowing the present to be imperfect.” I hope that for both of us.

  • Jenni DeWitt

    “Where there’s smoke there’s fire.” My Grandma always used to say that to me. I love the idea that anxiety is the smoke to let us know there’s something’s wrong. Somewhere in our life there is a fire that needs to be put out. It might be just the two little Fremch fries, but it’s important to go searching through the smoke for the cause of the fire. Otherwise, it can start affecting our kids and loved ones. Thank you for your words. Such a neat visual you give us!
    Jenni @

    • emily p freeman

      I’m glad, Jennie. Those smoking fries definitely stuck with me! And you’re so right – our smoking souls influence everything around us.

  • Tyra

    Giving myself permission to follow Jesus into the abyss of His love, grace, mercy and protection to know Him more intimately. Thank you for the soul stirring grace words shared today.

    • emily p freeman

      You’re welcome, Tyra. Glad you’re here.

  • Missy Robinson

    “The discouragement doesn’t arrive to shame you into doing more but to remind you to do less.” Thank you for these gentle words today!

    • emily p freeman

      You’re so welcome, Missy!

  • Katy McCown

    Thank you, Emily. So beautifully said.

    I’m fighting every day to stay present in one moment at a time. It’s when I drag all my stuff into every assignment that I drown beneath the flood of “all things” and miss the fullness of one. Thing. At a time. There’s such peace for me being present in one moment at a time. It’s the freedom you talk about. The pace that lets me breathe and maybe even have a conversation once in a while. :)

  • Emma

    Oh my goodness Emily, I read these words with a smile on my face. Not only at the thought of a robot voice shouting fire from it’s vantage point (and you ignoring it) but the recognition of this exact vantage point in my life too. Thank you for your quiet whispering voice reminding me to step out of the fog and wave my papers with relaxed ease in Jesus’s direction.

  • Samantha Livingston

    Love this Emily. Felt a little smokey myself lately. Thank you for putting some words (and beautiful ones I might add!) to my feelings.

  • Kathy @ In Quiet Places

    I am thinking a good long walk will clear my foggy head today, even if I have to bundle up, although today is pretty nice for January! I love alone time with my thoughts where they are free to run where they may.

  • Lisa

    I have, indeed, been suffocating lately. Thank you for putting words to what I am going through. I’m trying to come up for air…

  • Ruthie Lewis

    Loved this, Emily!!! Talkin my language :) It just so happens I also just finished David Benner’s book. Absolutely loved it and adding it to my recommended reading list.


  • Pam

    Love. Thank you!

  • Teresa

    Needed this reminder on so many levels today. My job is to leave the unanswered questions with God and not to worry about them. In the waiting I need to (as a friend reminded me) “be still and know”. Thanks for being yet another reminder that I’m to let go and wait on God. He has plans I can’t see and he knows what’s best. Emily, your writing always touches a note in my soul at just the right time. Thanks for allowing God to use you to minister soul breathing and hope.

  • Heather Yates

    Seriously lady. “The discouragement doesn’t arrive to shame you into doing more but to remind you to do less.”

    Heaven knows I have the skin-space, but if I had the nerve I would totally tattoo this somewhere!

    As always, thank you :-)

  • Tami Harbin

    So, I know this isn’t the point of the post, but I can’t resist letting you know that the phrase/idea “Like tiny black cigars” has put a smile on my face!!! Your simile has made me smile! ;)

  • Penny D.

    There are many things in my life I haven’t dealt with, like those two french fries. These things have been just sitting inside waiting for the right amount of pressure, or the right circumstances, or just a weak moment to reassert themselves. RIght now I’m struggling to get them under control without falling into one giant pit of sin. It’s funny how you can look sin in the face, recognize it as sin, and yet willingly walk right into it. I’m frightened that I don’t have the strength to deal with the issues, to remove the fries, so that the smoke can clear. Thank you for your words.

  • melony

    i’ve been sitting in the smoke searching for the source and was beginning to think i just needed to leave the room instead-which i didn’t know any of that until i read these words and discovered exactly what it is going on in my soul. taking the courage handed out here to continue on the path towards the source and the One who will quench the thirst that the source is creating within.

    thank you emily.

  • Lisa H.

    I love this. I lost my dad very suddenly last summer, and since then I feel like I’m finally understanding how short and precious life really is. I’ve been “putting out fires” all over my life over the past few months, pursuing simplicity, and learning how to quiet all the static and let my soul breathe.

    • Beth Williams


      Prayers for you and your family! May God give you the peace and contentment you need during these times! Prayers for overcoming the death of your father. Life truly is short and we need to shower each other with love while we can!

      (((((hugs))))) from Upper E. TN~!

  • Michelle

    I was just walking the frozen beach telling Jesus that I don’t trust myself to hear His voice; I keep thinking ‘Michelle, that’s just in your mind. You only WANT to hear Jesus saying these things to you’. I’ve been chasing those thoughts around for the past hour and then I decide to check my email before I head home. So I’m currently sitting in my car at the beach reading your post. It’s scary how many places I’ve heard the instruction to rest lately. But I haven’t trusted that it was God speaking to me (or am I just so tired that I wish someone would send me to my room!) So on the heels of my conversation with Jesus, your email spoke to me. I’ve been so worried about the noisy alarm (frantically fanning the smoke away so it will stop blaring) that I didn’t look for what’s actually smoking. I’ve been busy taking care of my family, my friends, my church, but not caring for my soul. I’m sure some days you sit to write your post and wonder what to say. Today you were God’s mouthpiece to me. Thank you!

  • Jana DeVries

    My schedule has suffocated me for so long. I’ve been that girl always trying to fit it all in…to live up to all that I thought was required to please God, others and to live up to my own impossible expectations. The emptiness that settled deep into my soul as a result has turned out to be fertile ground for God show me that it’s not my harried life that pleases Him…it’s Jesus that pleases Him.
    And my soul is breathing deep, gasping breaths of relief as I begin to understand that I can tear up my Christian to-do list and just enjoy being in a relationship with Him.

    It’s been a long journey to reach this realization and your words, Emily, have been among those that God has used to break through to me. So…thank you for that. : )

  • Alison

    Right now, I can barely see for the smoke, and I don’t need to go looking for the fires because it’s taking all my energy to try and keep them contained, let alone putting them out. Emily, your words are truly, truly a gift from God, and are the refreshing bucket of water I need right now, this very second. Thanks-you.

  • Ginny

    I so needed this. Not only did I hit an emotional wall this weekend, but I have been so busy with no end in sight. I need to figure out this rhythym to my daily life so I don’t miss out. I have put off the things that feed my soul and it wasn’t intentional. It’s like I blinked and it took over. Now I have to be intentional in changing my perspective.

  • Courtney

    I needed the reminder that its okay to breathe, to take a moment and stop trying to figure it all out, to just trust God and follow His lead. Thank you for your words!

  • Marilyn

    This is totally me= “Maybe you’ve tried hard to systemize your schedule but in the process, you’re suffocating your soul.” Wow, thank you!

  • Beth Williams


    Such a thought provoking post! Thank you for waking me up to what my problem really is. I have been in a “funk” like mood for a while and could not figure out why.

    These phrases really spoke to me: “Our calling is therefore the way of being that is both best for us and best for the world.”

    “If our Souls aren’t given room to breathe, they will suffocate beneath the heavy pressure of a fast moving world.”

    I find that when I “stop” and do almost nothing I feel more relaxed and content. I am more able to draw near to God. When I come into the office, and work my busy week then I get easily upset and my soul seems to be suffocating. Might not be where I should be job wise.

    Thanks for helping me figure it out!

    Blessings :)

  • Carol Wilson

    Moments before reading your post, I just sent the following to a friend after trying to find an hour to enjoy a coffee.

    “Goodness. Life needs to slow down doesn’t it? Maybe the 2nd best part of heaven (1st is being in the presence of our Triune God, of course,), will be lots of time simply ‘smelling heaven’s roses.'”

    Thank you for taking the time to write to bless others, Emily.

  • lindley

    Mmmmm. Yes!!! Our souls aren’t made for an easy road. . . and breathing and suffocation. This is beautiful and such a wonderful reminder and encouragement! Thank you!

  • Dolly@Soulstops

    Love both books you mentioned…and sad but true, I can relate to those little burnt things you forget in your toaster oven…glad it wasn’t a real fire :-) Thanks for your words :-)

  • Heather

    Thank you! This image feels so tangible and applicable to me right now. Thanks for sharing as always!

    • emily p freeman

      You’re so welcome, Heather. Images help so much, don’t they?

  • Susan Shipe

    Checking for stray French fries right now. Good post!

  • Lisa

    I really appreciate how you use metaphor; being a visual person using words to paint pictures helps me immensely. Thank you.
    As I have reflected on walking with Jesus into the fog, the smoke to show me it’s source, I am realizing perhaps I have been looking for the source of the smoke in the wrong places. I trust Him to point me in the direction He desires my soul to focus.
    Bless you.

  • Deena

    The fog seems deep today. Literally we had fog, but my spirit is feeling the fog too. Tomorrow I hope to take some cleaning breathes and find The Light in my foggy life.