When I was younger, I went to church because that’s what my parents did. I went to Sunday School because I was told to. But then I grew up, and had to decide if it was something I wanted for myself. No one would wake me up in the morning and tell me to go to church, or force me to sit in that pew and be attentive. But I wanted to; it’s what I knew. It wasn’t until I started to face real loss, however, of those that I loved, of my health, and seeing others deal with loss as well, that I started to rely on my faith in a much deeper way, and see it as the greatest blessing.
If you were to ask five different people why faith is important to them, you would likely get five different answers. For some it’s prayer, for others it’s reading scripture, having a sense of community, or simply holding the profound belief in a higher power. For me, it’s all those things and so much more. We often hear reports saying that faith and spirituality can have a positive impact on physical and emotional health…but what does this mean to someone who is battling a serious, chronic, or life-limiting illness?
It is through loss of all kinds that my faith has been challenged, but then renewed, blossoming infinitely more. Loss of any kind never becomes easier, nor should it. If loss becomes easier, then we risk becoming numb to emotion—and not just to the sadness, the grief and the anger, but to the good things as well. As Brené Brown said, “…you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these…You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness.”
Faith turns my focus to the positives and provides the strength to cope with the hard stuff. It’s a constant reminder of what the blessings are—what is left after loss. The strengths and the blessings I’m left with can far outweigh the emptiness felt from what was lost. Those facing health challenges, and those walking through that journey alongside them, know all too well the powerlessness that accompanies you and can threaten to take over. While there is so much we cannot control, there is much we can. Where we choose to turn our focus, whom we surround ourselves with, and from where we draw strength are just a few of those things we control. For me, and so many others, faith and family are where I draw strength. Some might consider that relying on faith makes you vulnerable, because it places one’s sense of control outside the self. But in many ways, relying on faith and being vulnerable in that way lifts much of the burden. Yes, there’s still so much to navigate, but you don’t need to have all the answers. Settling into that vulnerability can be incredibly freeing.
When I faced health challenges and endured loss, I had to find ways to stay grounded, and learn what really served as my foundation. I needed to find a source of strength when I felt weakest, and find light in the midst of darkness. If through your own journey, you discover as I did, that the one thing that can do all that is faith, then it should be nurtured, so that it can be the part of you that grows stronger when you feel so small in comparison to life’s adversities. The most beautiful thing I learned once I started relying on my faith was that nothing seems nearly as bad as it would otherwise, and nothing is impossible.
Brown, Brené. (2010, June). Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability [Video file]. Retrieved from TED: Brené Brown.
Anna Kozas earned her Master’s in Counseling with an emphasis in Health Psychology from the School of Education and Counseling Psychology at Santa Clara University (SCU) and is currently the Bioethics Program Coordinator at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at SCU. In her role at the Ethics Center, Anna coordinates the Center’s bioethics activities and research projects. She also administers the Health Care Ethics Internship, a unique program in which undergraduates shadow a variety of health care professionals in hospitals and other health care settings. In addition to serving as a liaison between the hospitals and the university, Anna works with students as they learn about medical and ethical issues in health care; she directs the Center’s Honzel Fellow who serves as a peer educator to the Interns.