“God is a member of my healthcare team” was a theme throughout focus groups that explored the impact of the church and spirituality on Black Americans with chronic illness. Dr. Shaunna Siler, a nurse researcher at the University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus partnered with Colorado Black Health Collaborative and five predominately Black churches in the Denver- Metro area. One focus group was conducted at each of the five churches during October and November 2019. A total of fifty Black Americans, age 55 and over, with at least one chronic illness, participated. Family members who cared for someone with a chronic illness were also in attendance. We had great food, good company, and rich conversations.
We found that majority of participants used spirituality to cope with their illness, collaboratively, inviting God to assist with their healthcare decisions and get through difficult times. Practices such as personal prayer, reading the bible, showing gratitude, and giving to others were mentioned. It was indicated that focusing on gratitude and giving to others through the church community was a distraction from their illness. One member stated, “We’re not dwelling on our illness or disability because we’re helping somebody else.” Participants spoke of giving and receiving support physically, emotionally, and spiritually through their church. For many, spirituality gave a sense of peace and purpose in life. Another reason spirituality or faith in God was so important is that they relied on spirituality to cope with systemic racism for generations as expressed in the following statement, “I think people of color, we had no choice but to have a source, we had to have a source because the way we were treated as people, not equal, you had to have a relationship with God.”
Research shows that spirituality may have a positive effect on mental and physical health. Black Americans are “markedly more religious on a variety of measures than the U.S population as a whole, including level of affiliation with religion, attendance of religious services, frequency of prayer, and religion’s importance in life” (see article). During a time where social distancing is mandated and social injustice is escalating, you may find encouragement in nurturing your spiritual health. An online article written by Alexander Levering Kern, Director of the Center for Spirituality at Northeastern University, provides us with 13 tips for caring for self and others during difficult times (please see below).
Tips for Caring for Self and Others During Difficult Times:
- Breathe. Breathe some more. Take time in your day, at any moment, to take ten deep even breaths. Carve out 5-10 minutes to meditate or practice mindfulness or contemplative prayer. Start here, now, wherever you are.
- Ground yourself in the present moment. Focus your awareness on something real, enduring, or beautiful in your surroundings. Look up often. Discover the wonder and awe that is already here.
- Acknowledge your fears, anxieties, concerns. Offer them up in prayer, if you pray. Write them in your journal. Share them with others. Feel what you feel, honor it, and know that it is not the final word.
- Remember you are not alone. You are surrounded by care and support. Reach out.
- Create and sustain community. Show up for one another. Listen compassionately. Practice empathy. Even while avoiding “close physical contact,” message the people you care about. Stand with those most vulnerable and those who suffer the brunt of prejudice and fear. Check-in on folks. Call your mother, father, guardian, mentor, little sibling, long-lost friend.
- Unplug, judiciously. While staying aware of developments, do not let the Corona-chaos govern you, but forgive yourself when and if it does.
- Practice kindness. There is a temptation in health scares to view others as potential threats. Remember we are in this together. While practicing health guidelines and appropriate caution, remember to engage one another. Smile when you can. Bring good deeds and good energy into our world.
- Stay healthy through sleep, diet, and exercise.
- Make art. Discover, imagine, engage your hopes and fears, the beauty and ugliness of our world. Write, paint, sing, dance, soar.
- Practice gratitude. In the face of crises, make note of the things for which you are grateful: your breath, the particular shade of the sky at dusk—or dawn. The color blue, the color green, the gifts and strengths you have, other people in your life, the ability to laugh. A pet.
- Connect with your spiritual, religious, humanist, cultural, or other communities. Find strength and solace and power in traditions, texts, rituals, practices, holy times, and seasons.
- Pray as you are able, silently, through song, in readings, through ancestors. Remember the long view of history, the rhythms, and cycles of nature, the invisible threads that connect us all.
- Practice hope. Trust in the future and our power to endure and persist, to live fully into the goodness that awaits.
Shaunna Siler, Ph.D., RN, Emma Jackson, MSN, MA, RN, and Tracy Gilford