My 5th-grade teacher, Terri Nobles, had a 2×4 in our classroom with the words “BOARD OF EDUCATION” written in black permanent marker. And if you failed to heed her warnings…no, she wouldn’t whack you with it. (I know I grew up in the Alabama countryside, but we weren’t that backwards!) Anyway, if you got in trouble, you’d find yourself at a picnic table during recess with that 2×4 and a piece of sandpaper, trying to get rid of the black permanent marker. It’s shocking how deep permanent marker can sink into old pine.
You’ve probably guessed I spent my fair share of recesses with Mrs. Nobles hovering over me. I can still see her grin and hear her cackling in that thick-as-molasses southern drawl.
“Steve Austin!” she’d say, “Life is hard, and then you die.” (For those of you who haven’t heard a true country drawl, she’d draw the word “life” out into about seven syllables. It was something like, “Laaaaaaaf is haarrd, an’ then y’daaaaah.”)
You laugh – or maybe you cringe at that story – but the principle isn’t necessarily wrong. Growing up in Prosperity Gospel churches, it seemed most folks believed that the Christian life meant the end of suffering, pain, and hard times. We pictured God as some sort of cosmic Santa Claus, handing out health, wealth, and happiness to all the good little kids. But life just doesn’t work that way, no matter how religious you are.
In this world, we are going to suffer. It’s an unfortunate side effect of life. Terri Nobles is standing there, leaning over the picnic table of your life, saying, “Life is hard, and then you die.” We want to name it and claim it, believe it and receive it, blab it and grab it. We think those truth-tellers are discouraging and depressing, but it doesn’t have to be that way. After all, Jesus showed up on the scene and echoes the cry of all the realists: “In this world, you will have trouble.” He hands us the BOARD OF EDUCATION, while everybody else is playing, and whispers, “Life is hard…”
What if we reject all that name-it-and-claim-it crap and join Jesus and Terri Nobles? See, when we recognize that life is hard, we don’t let any of those TV preachers tell us otherwise and shame us into hiding our pain. We refuse to shrink back from caring for ourselves and giving grace to others when we make peace with the fact that life is uncertain, unfair, and unpredictable.
“Life is suffering,” said the Buddha, and Jesus responded, “Amen.”
But that’s not all they said. Buddha talked a whole lot about compassion. Jesus often talked about love and living something he called “abundant life.” We can’t truly experience any of those good things if we don’t let ourselves feel and process the tough stuff, then make good self-care choices.
Yes, life beats us down, disappoints us, shocks us, makes us angry, and even leaves us feeling hopeless at times. This is why self-care is so important. We must intentionally carve out time to care for ourselves, so that we can handle the chaos of life. And I wonder if that’s what Jesus meant when he finished his statement in John 16:33, “Take heart, I’ve overcome the world.” What if that overcoming happens as we shift our mindsets and learn to love ourselves? Because it sure seems like it has for me.
Please learn from my experience. I’m a real guy who has walked through a living hell and has come out on the other side. I refuse to skirt the details of my story or pretend that life stops being hard once you’re on the path from chaos to calm. Instead, I want you to know that a lifestyle of self-care can carry you through the hardest times. I’ve hit rock bottom and lived to tell about it. And even if you’re nowhere near rock bottom, taking care of yourself is a necessary part of daily life. It will keep you holding on when everything else seems like too much.
Praise for Catching Your Breath
“There are two things that make Steve Austin’s voice unique and worth hearing. First, he’s been through hell and come back with the kind of hopefulness that is as contagious as it is compelling. People are always better for having encountered such people. Second, he’s candid. He says the thing that so many are thinking but are afraid to say, and shares the details of the story that others would hide—and he does all of that without being smug or self-aggrandizing. On the contrary, Steve’s candor is tempered by a grace and compassion that makes it safe for others to be honest about what they’re experiencing and to also encounter hope. In Catching Your Breath, Steve offers himself as a companion to those who feel like they are drowning, not as a lifeguard but as a coach saying ‘Hey. You can swim!’”
—Andre Henry, Managing Editor at RELEVANT Media Group
“Steve Austin knows the wounds of hell about which he writes so movingly in this book. In the case of every wound he knows, Steve has turned that wound into a source of healing power. That is why he is one of the most mobilized, energized, walking witnesses of New Life I have ever known. Now, fasten your seatbelts and prepare for a hefty dose of New Life for yourself in his words.”
—Rev. Ed Bacon, Author of 8 Habits of Love, and a regular guest on Oprah Winfrey’s Soul Series
“My friend Steve understands more than most that we are messed up people living in a messed up world with other messed up people. He understands the human condition. He refuses to sugarcoat the depth of his own desperation and need. But he also understands that God meets our messed-up-ness with his mercy over and over and over again. He understands that God loves bad and broken people because bad and broken people are all that there are. He’s uncomfortably honest, remarkably compassionate, and beautifully rough around the edges. Thank you for your friendship, Steve. And thank you for this book. Page after page you reminded me that ‘It is finished.’”
—Tullian Tchividjian, author of One-Way Love, and Jesus + Nothing = Everything
“Catching Your Breath is a fearless work in which Austin demonstrates vulnerability and nakedness; showing us his scars so we can begin to be comfortable with our own. His story travels with us to places of deep pain, but his words of encouragement provide a ladder and light for the climb out.”
—Suzanne DeWitt Hall, Author of the Rumplepimple Adventures and Where True Love Is: An Affirming Devotional for LGBTQI+ Individuals and Their Allies
“If you are among the multitudes who need help to just survive the next 24 hours, this book will be a God-send.”
—Dr. Paula Champion Jones, Retired UMC pastor
About the Author
Steve Austin was a pastor when he nearly died by suicide. A second chance, a grueling recovery, and years of honest conversation allowed Steve to find healing and purpose. It’s evident in his writing, speaking, podcasting, and coaching: he helps overwhelmed people get their lives back. Steve is also the author of the Amazon bestseller From Pastor to a Psych Ward. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife, Lindsey, and their two children.