It had been five years since I started at OSF HealthCare and I had never stepped inside the executive boardroom, but there I was, packed into this room with a variety of palliative and supportive care team members. As I looked around the room, I felt like the odd man out. It was like being at the big kids’ table for the first time; I kept my eyes down and my mouth shut unless I was asked a direct question.
I passed the time by listening and taking notes about topics we could use for this blog. One of the quietest, but most passionate speakers at the table was Sister Jacque (pronounced jack-ee) Schroeder and she kept referring to this term: spiritual pain.
I was intrigued so I sat down with Sister to chat about spiritual pain. Here’s what I found out…
What is spiritual pain?
Spiritual pain is the pain that comes from the “hidden” areas of our life. It can’t be pointed to on a pain scale, but it is still very real and can impact our physical and emotional health.
Spiritual pain is often broken down into four categories:
- Meaning – struggling with the “meaning” behind life, relationships, and the world around you
- Forgiveness – pain that stems from forgiving others, ourselves and God
- Relatedness – dealing with relationships, whether good or bad
- Hope – feeling like there is no hope or it doesn’t exist
Spiritual pain doesn’t discriminate based on gender or age; it affects everyone in different ways at all stages of life. As Sister put it, everyone is on a spiritual journey from the moment they are born and from that journey, we feel pain and, in turn, we grow. Our society doesn’t often emphasize this journey so we have a difficult time dealing with the pain when it becomes too much to handle.
Dealing With Spiritual Pain
After learning so much in a short time, I asked Sister if there was anything we can do for ourselves or as caregivers to others to keep spiritual pain from becoming too much. Her answer was simple, but powerful: breathe and be silent.
Once, when Sister was faced with some of the hardest choices in her life, she asked God for guidance, but the only response she received was “breathe.” Our society and our lives move much too fast these days so taking the time to just breathe gives us something to focus our minds and keep them clear so the answers we are seeking can rise to the top.
Hand in hand with breathing is silence. Again, we are bombarded with messages and “noise” all around us every day. Having a place to turn that off and just listen and breathe often creates that environment of spiritual and emotional healing we are looking for. As Sister put it, “God doesn’t need time to speak to us; we just need to find the time to be quiet and listen.”
Doctor, Heal Thyself
As caregivers, it is difficult to know how to treat every part of a patient. That’s why hospitals have social services, pastoral care, palliative care, and more in order to treat the entire patient. But, it’s important for all caregivers to remember one thing: we are the medicine we bring.
You have probably heard someone say, “You can’t help others until you help yourself.” This is true with doctors, nurses, and all of our health care providers. Once the caregivers take time to be silent, breathe and confront their own spiritual pain, then they are able to incorporate that into the medical treatments and coordinated care they provide at the bedside.