Good health is undeniably one of our greatest blessings from God. Be it minor aches and pains, an annoying chronic condition, or a debilitating illness, health issues are welcomed by no one.
How we deal with our bodily illsÑwhether with a joyful heart or a crushed spiritÑcan be far more an important factor in the successful management of our health than any medicine, therapy, or physician could ever be.
This was all brought home to me one night last year when I was whisked away to a hospital after suddenly becoming seriously ill. During the next several months of treatment for a previously undetected health issue, I found great support in my faith, secure in the knowledge that no matter what course my health would take, Jesus would be at my side through it all.
So often when we pray during poor health, we ask only to be made well again. During the course of my treatment, I encountered numerous opportunities, both positive and negative, that actually served to strengthen my relationship with God and God’s people.
Here are five ways that can help you maintain a joyful heart in the midst of medical challenges.
1) Turn to God.
No matter the nature of the health issue facing us, shock and disbelief at our diagnosis are often our first reactions. We might ask ourselves, How did this happen? Could it have been found sooner? And, of course, the ubiquitous, Why me?
When coming face-to-face with your diagnosis, resist the common reaction of turning away from God, especially in anger. God is also saddened by your illness. God already knows that the road ahead of you will, at times, be a difficult one. Realize, however, that God is ready to carry you along this journey. Be open to God’s comforting embrace.
As I lay in the emergency room that night, tethered to a host of machines that beeped and buzzed with my every breath, my prayer was not “Jesus, I know that you will save me, ” but “Jesus, I know that you will stay with me. “
Thankfully, he did both.
2) Give yourself a break.
We are often quick to blame ourselves for our health problems. Some thoughts that might race through our minds: I should have stopped smoking. Did I really need to drink so much? Why didn’t I exercise like the doctor told me?
While we may speak of the importance of forgiving others, we often forget to forgive ourselves. Give yourself the gift of reconciliation. Recognize your past mistakes, wipe the slate clean, and ask for God’s help in adopting whatever measures are necessary to improve or control your health situation. By showing yourself the same amount of compassion that Jesus shows us, you will be honoring both the life and the body that God has given you.
3) Always be thankful.
Though appointments, tests, and procedures may seem annoying at best, offer prayers of gratitude for the incredible knowledge and abilities with which God has gifted our physicians, nurses, technicians, and all other health-care workers.
The nurse who makes certain you are comfortable, the doctor who successfully completes your surgery, the pharmacist who puts your prescriptions in order, the receptionist who works you into the doctor’s busy schedule: they are today’s co-ministers of Jesus.
4) Step up your faith.
Frequent attendance at Mass, reception of the Eucharist, and prayer are tried-and- true ways to find solace through our faith. But do not hesitate to seek out new ways of increasing your faith experience.
A powerful way of maintaining a joyful heart through illness is to involve yourself with a local community of consecrated religious, be they male or female. As a teacher for 25 years at a Catholic high school for young women, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, New York, I have been fortunate to be able to share in the mission and charism of this particular community of women religious.
There are numerous communities that you might contact, such as the Franciscans, the Benedictines, the Mercies, the Jesuits, and many others. Most have programs for lay associates and co-ministers that allow you to take part in their sponsored ministries, special events, prayer groups, or meetings. If you cannot physically connect with a community, you probably can electronically. Nearly all religious communities maintain interactive websites that allow followers to join in prayer, petition, readings, videos, live chats, streaming liturgies and prayer services, commentaries, and more.
By involving yourself with a community, you will not only add a new dimension to your own faith experience, but also draw continual comfort and support. You might even find that your presence and contributions are providing the same comfort and support to others whom you are touching with your life.
Don’t forget that you may also connect electronically with all the major Catholic shrines around the world. Can’t get to Lourdes, Lisieux, Assisi, or the Vatican? Simply go online to find their live services, presentations, prayers, and soothing images.
5) Always pray.
Prayer should be at the center of our existence, no matter where we are on our life’s journey. A favorite of many in need is the beloved Serenity Prayer, which may provide just the right combination of acceptance, strength, and hope needed during any trial:
God, grant me the serenity to
accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things
And the wisdom to know the