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When I Had to Choose Between My Health and How I Worship

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I never thought my chronic illness would force me to choose between worship and preserving my health. I grew up in a church where every Sunday there was lots of singing and dancing and praising and yelling. In most black churches, this the norm every Sunday morning. Naturally when I left home, I sought a similar worship environment. Fortunately, I found the perfect church and was really happy.

But then I became ill with endometriosis and sometimes would be in the middle of service and the pain would get so bad I’d have to leave mid-sermon. Some Sundays I’d miss completely because I was in so much pain. Yet, time went on and I adjusted to my new normal.

But then my health began to deteriorate even more, and I missed even more services and had to give up many roles and commitments because my body just couldn’t handle it. At this point I could still make services most mornings, maybe not every Sunday, but I was there enough to still have a presence.

And then things really took a turn for the worse. My migraines got out of control. Before they became a daily issue, sound sensitivity wasn’t as much of a trigger for me. Light and changes in temperature were more triggering than anything. But I had one terrible hemiplegic migraine and things were not the same after that. I recall going to church one Sunday and not feeling all that great but pushing through because I hadn’t been in a while. It was a special ceremony that day and there were several folks coming to speak. But some people started yelling and shouting in the microphone and it sent my head spinning. Then, the musicians began playing much louder. And when it was time for the choir to sing, they started singing at a normal volume, but as the song was concluding, one of the members took a microphone and began singing extra loud and that sent me over the edge. I ran to the restroom because I could feel the nausea increasing. I made it in time to throw up in the trash can and not all over myself. I cleaned myself up, put my shades on because at that point the light sensitivity was increasing and I couldn’t feel one side of my face. I tried to quietly leave the service, but an usher stopped me. I was bluntly honest and told her I was experiencing a severe migraine from all the loud music and yelling. She had no words.

I let a Sunday pass and went back to church. While not a special service, the same situation occurred and I had to excuse myself again. It was at that moment I realized I had a choice to make: sacrifice my health and continue to worship or alter how I worship to maintain my health.

For many weeks I sought alternative methods of worship including podcasts, other churches and even watching my church sermons online. I felt OK but wondered if maybe after some time things would change. So one Sunday I tried again. Huge mistake. While we had moved to another location where sound was more distributed, it was still extremely loud and I felt the dreaded migraine coming on. I felt defeated. I felt like it would be hard to ever worship in person with the church I knew as home and community I called family.

However, I came to this conclusion: my health is important. And as long as I find the time to pray and praise and thank God in my own way, that is what matters. I can no longer afford to stress my body and neglect what it is trying to tell me. We are lucky to live in an age where there are so many ways to worship and receive a word that is accommodating to us folks who live with a chronic illness.

So yes, I never thought I would have to choose between my health and worship environment, but here we are. And I know God understands. But I push through way more than I should and if there is a way I can preserve some energy and prevent a flare-up, then that is what I need to do because you never know how many more times you have before that one flare-up is the one that puts you out for months instead of days. Just something to think about…

After all, the church isn’t the building but the people.

Getty image by monkeybusinessimages

Originally published: October 10, 2019
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