A couple of weeks ago, I gave a talk about “Spiritual Suffering” at a large medical center in Los Angeles. The topic came at the end of a difficult, yet grace-filled year – a great way for God to help me “wrap it all up.”
In preparation for the talk, I revisited a great book that had been given to me by a physician and leading expert on palliative care and the role of spirituality in healthcare, Christina M. Puchalsky, MD. In the book, one quote really struck me. Dr. Puchalski writes, ”As mentioned previously, much of the pain patients experience is not just physical pain, but also spiritual. In fact, from my clinical experience with patients, I have found that spiritual suffering underlies most of the pain that patients and their families experience. Pain is multifactorial: physical, emotional, social and spiritual. Any one of these can exacerbate the total experience of pain.” (from A Time for Listening and Caring: Spirituality and the Care of the Chronically Ill and Dying. Christina M. Puchalski, MD. Oxford University Press. 2006.)
Far from meaning that pain is “all in our heads,” I think that these lines speak to something that we know, but might be afraid of expressing: When we experience emotional trauma and pain, when our spirits suffer, the physical pain with which we live will seem all the more difficult, even crushing. Whatever pain we have, physical spiritual, etc., is interconnected.
At holiday season, when we live in the “now” while often remembering loved ones who have died or who are suffering, there can be an extra dose of sorrow in the celebrations – and more spiritual pain and suffering heaped upon whatever physical challenges we have. If we race pellmell through these days, the added spiritual sadness might take us by surprise, stopping us from understanding and enjoying what we can during this time. It also might blunt our energy to seek necessary medical care.
Health does not take a holiday during the holidays. It’s important to keep up with medical appointments and seek extra time with your doctor if need be, especially if you notice your medical condition changing or getting worse. It’s also important to take ample time to be still, pray, and ask for wisdom to understand the added pain you might be feeling, especially if this year has included a loss of a loved one, job, or other person or thing close to you so that at this time, your soul may feel the balm of comfort and joy.
Blessings for the day,