Understanding Spiritual Pain

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:

  1. Meaning – struggling with the “meaning” behind life, relationships, and the world around you
  2. Forgiveness – pain that stems from forgiving others, ourselves and God
  3. Relatedness – dealing with relationships, whether good or bad
  4. 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.

Last Updated: February 9, 2022

About Author: Michael Vujovich

An OSF Mission Partner for over a decade, Michael Vujovich describes himself as a “photo-taking, guitar-playing, web-designing, house-remodeling, Netflix-binging, cat-loving Star Wars geek.”

As Director of Marketing Technology & Multimedia, he oversees a team of digital marketing and multimedia experts who help manage web, social media, photo, video, audio and digital advertising strategies for the OSF Ministry.

Mike earned his Bachelor of Science in Multimedia from Bradley University in 2007 and a Master of Science in Health Administration from the University of St. Francis in 2014.

In his spare time, Mike enjoys reading, traveling and spending time with his wife and their three “fur children”: Marie, Sookie and Bella.

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Categories: Palliative Care & Hospice


  • Linda Fehr says:

    Mike, your efforts to help us understand spiritual pain through your interview with Sister Jacque are very appreciated! I believe that we as health care professionals often avoid this important domain of care because we were taught that “spirituality” is a personal thing not to be discussed. But in reality, patients with serious illness want us to address this domain of care, likely because it can bring them hope and healing outside of the physical domain.

  • Michael Vujovich, Senior Web Specialist says:

    Linda – I appreciate the compliment. I would agree that clinicians can often get wrapped up in “solving” the physical problem when all too often it isn’t always the physical pain that the patient suffers from. I am interested to see how the new health care environment may help or hinder this holistic approach to medicine.

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