Finding Spiritual Strength in Severe Illness
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“Some people awaken spiritually without ever coming into contact with any meditation technique or any spiritual teaching. They may awaken simply because they can’t stand the suffering anymore.” ~Eckhart Tolle
Sometimes in life, we face pain so great that we must focus on surviving one day at a time, or even by the hour or the minute. During these moments, it feels as if our hearts naturally gravitate toward the spiritual, as there is only so much sadness, fear, bitterness or grief a human heart can hold before it cracks.
We long to find the good in the bad situation, the purpose in the suffering, the safety in the unknown. And once we finally let go of our fear and take a leap of faith, we experience that familiar sense of peace and safety that seems to transcend the suffering.
Numerous studies over the years have confirmed the incredible benefits of having strong spiritual beliefs during times of hardship and illness. These findings not only show that spirituality is linked to stronger emotional and mental health, but physical health as well.
A new analysis, published in the journal CANCER, has found that cancer patients with greater overall religiosity and spirituality experienced better physical health, greater ability to go about their daily tasks, and had fewer physical symptoms of cancer.
"These relationships were particularly strong in patients who experienced greater emotional aspects of religion and spirituality, including a sense of meaning and purpose in life as well as a connection to a source larger than oneself," said lead author Heather Jim, PhD, of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa in a news release.
The research team also found that cancer patients with a stronger sense of spirituality had fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety and distress. In contrast, spiritual distress and a sense of disconnectedness from God was linked to poorer emotional well-being and greater psychological distress.
Greater spirituality in cancer patients was also linked to healthier relationships. The findings show that those who believe in a benevolent God (as opposed to a distant or easily angered God) and those with stronger convictions that a personal God can be called upon for assistance had an easier time maintaining relationships and social contacts. In contrast, those who struggled with their faith struggled more with their social life.
In another recent study, published in the Journal of Social Service Research, researchers found that people who lack an ultimate meaning in life—an important aspect in spirituality—are more prone to suffering from substance abuse and mental health problems.
Although living by faith is nourishing at all times in our lives, leaning into faith during the hardest moments gives the opportunity to increase our convictions even more. We have the opportunity to experience a special kind of peace that stands in stark contrast to the suffering.
If you are going through severe illness or other kind of pain, feel confident that clinging to your beliefs will touch every aspect of your life—your spirit, mind and physical body. Let go of your fear, and nourish your soul in faith.