Your Spiritual Practice: Dealing with a Health Crisis

In this series, Your Spiritual Practice, we offer straightforward advice from Stephanie Ludwig, PhD, MA, MDiv, Director of Spiritual Wellness at Canyon Ranch® Tucson, on how to use spirituality to help you navigate your way through some of life’s biggest challenges. Experiencing a serious health problem, whether your own or that of someone you love, can unsettle even the most faithful.

Here are three practices to try on a daily basis to help you feel stronger and more connected to your spiritual self now:

1. Prioritize yourself now.
Going through a health crisis is exhausting—physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. “That’s why it’s so important to have healthy boundaries, so that your energy is freed up for healing,” Ludwig advises. “If you have a health issue and you’re giving too much of yourself to other people, that can be a problem. Maintaining boundaries is actually a spiritual discipline because it’s honoring yourself.”

So perhaps your spiritual practice means looking at your obligations every week to figure out what’s depleting your energy and cutting these out as much as you can. Maybe, for example, you pass up taking on that extra project at work, or save volunteering for next year, when you’re feeling better. In short, do what you can to make sure you’re as strong as possible, in mind and body, so you’re able to focus on overcoming your illness.

2. Don’t let your spiritual practices go.
“When I think of someone who’s in the midst of a health crisis, the first thing that comes to mind is to not lose hope,” says Ludwig. “To do that, you need to really focus on increasing your faith and trust in something outside yourself, and that may mean focusing more on your spiritual practices.” Perhaps you can make more time for meditation or prayer, contemplative walks in nature or something else that gives you comfort right now, like music, good food, exercise, time with your closest friends, or serving others, if you feel up to it.

Another common challenge is that people sometimes blame a greater being for difficult things that befall us. “It’s important to remember that real spirituality does not necessarily come easy. We all have a tendency to overestimate our own sincerity. It’s when things get rough that we really find out how deep our faith actually is, and this is where we grow from.” Ludwig says.

3. Acknowledge that you need support.
“People battling a health issue may isolate themselves from others,” says Ludwig, “so reaching out to friends and family to ask for help and support is really important so that you know—and feel—that you’re not alone.” If there’s one thing that cancer, Parkinson’s disease, a heart attack or other serious and even life-threatening conditions may teach us, it’s that we can’t always control everything in our lives. “We can’t fix everything on our own; we’re in need of spirit, we’re in need of God,” says Ludwig. “Obviously, if we could choose, we wouldn’t be ill, so the practice here is trying to understand that you

“We can’t fix everything on our own; we’re in need of spirit, we’re in need of God,” says Ludwig. “Obviously, if we could choose, we wouldn’t be ill, so the practice here is trying to understand that you are in need and letting that be a beautiful thing rather than something that makes you feel bad about yourself.” Ludwig says, “Being in need doesn’t have to feel like a shameful thing; sometimes it is in the most desperate places inside us that we find our most sincere prayers.”

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