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Just Breathe

Since high school, I have had breathing issues. There was this one drill in my training for field hockey that always left me struggling to breathe, which led to a doctor’s visit where I was diagnosed with seasonal asthma. I was prescribed an emergency inhaler and allergy medicine and considered myself lucky that this was a seasonal occurrence that could be solved with medicine.

In college, I had breathing issues during a different season while training for the club sport I played. I concluded that I was in a different environment and that the allergies were impacting my lungs differently. By this time, I had become used to not being able to swim the length of a swimming pool and having to have my inhaler with me at all times.

In seminary, I ended up in the urgent care receiving a steroid breathing treatment on Easter weekend of my second year. At this point, I had student insurance that didn’t cover my inhaler and didn’t have any extra money to buy the inhaler outright. I remember being in the stairwell between classes crying to a helpless insurance agent about how much I needed the medicine and begging him for any avenue to get the medicine covered.

This was the same semester I was in preaching practicum and ended up having to excuse myself from class after I had preached because I was coughing uncontrollably. It wasn’t until this point at twenty-six years old that it dawned on me that my breathing issues could be attached to something deeper, a signal my body was giving me to try to catch my breath and gain perspective.

There has been a lot written recently about the body’s connection to trauma and the signals that our bodies give us to attend to this trauma. It took me twenty-six years while I was in the midst of filling pulpits all over the western North Carolina and receiving feedback from my preaching professor that it seemed like I was out of breath in the middle of my sermons that I made the connection between being breathless and living into my call.

My anxiety was causing my heart to race and the shortness of breath. I was doing something in the form of preaching and seeking to become a pastor that I wasn’t supposed to do according to my evangelical upbringing. It made me nervous and uncertain and anxious. My body was giving voice to that anxiety.

Even now years later, there are some Sundays where the word from God for the people of God in the form of a sermon feels so weighty and dangerous that my breathlessness returns. I struggle to remember my call to deliver God’s word no matter how risky or controversial. I struggle to step boldy into this identity as pastor.

My body isn’t over the spiritual abuse I experienced. It still pops up in the form of not being able to catch my breath at times, but I haven’t used an inhaler in four years. Sometimes our bodies are trying to bring us to healing and wholeness even when our minds aren’t quite ready for it.