Spirituality, Religion and Smart Patienting

With two major religious holidays upon us, it seems like a good time to share my thoughts on belief systems and patients.

My family will celebrate Easter this weekend. I have many friends who are celebrating Passover, too. But this post will not be about religion — not really. I believe there are big differences between religion and spirituality. And I think patients can take advantage of both and use them for support and help.

If you read this blog often, you know I am very spiritual. I believe strongly that a higher power (who I’ll call God, but I recognize that others have other names for God) led me to do this work. My you’ll-be-dead-in-six-months cancer diagnosis turned out to be a misdiagnosis — meaning I have experienced all the horrors of emotions associated with a cancer diagnosis, but was able to stop short of the debilitation of treatment.

At the end of that odyssey, I asked myself WHAT on earth had happened there! Was it a collision of coincidences? Was it a fluke? No — I believe it was God telling me what my purpose on this earth is — helping others help themselves navigate the dysfunction that has developed in today’s medical care system. The misdiagnosis was my preparation — my backgrounder — my credential building. It was one more proof that everything happens for a reason.

Today, almost three years later, recognizing that I have a purpose, that I can help others, has a huge influence on everything I do. It drives me and feeds me and lifts me up.

That’s not the same as religion — not at all. Religion is just one way to recognize or celebrate spirituality, in my opinion. Going to church, putting money in the basket, being part of a congregation … those are religious activities, but may be far from spiritual, or may even incite spirituality. Religion may be the politics of spirituality.

Do I believe in pre-destination? Kinda-sorta. I don’t believe there is a single path or plan and we all fall into place, like robots. I DO believe that God provides us with a menu of choices all day every day, some more important than others. Each choice leads to another choice, and it’s up to us to make the smartest ones. In my case, after my misdiagnosis was confirmed, my choices were to move on, file a lawsuit, or channel my anger into something positive. You know which I chose — from God’s menu.

Included in my spiritual beliefs is the idea of positivity. Regardless of how difficult my challenges are, regardless of how sad I may be at times, regardless of how frustrated I may get with any of a number of aspects of my life — I always work to maintain my positivity. I believe that’s a gift God has given me and it has served me very very well.

Finally, I believe in karma. What goes around comes around. I know too many people who have made poor choices from God’s menu, and have ultimately paid the price through heartache or health problems or any of a number of difficulties in their lives. My ex-husband is a perfect example. He is very religious — goes to church a couple times a week — but was horribly abusive to my daughters and me during our marriage. Fifteen years ago, long after our divorce, he suffered the first of a number of strokes while in his early 40s and has been debilitated ever since. I wouldn’t wish his life on anyone. Karma tells me that God’s menu of choices also has consequences — good or bad.

Sharp patients can make their spirituality work for them in very positive ways. Consider the idea of a menu for each choice you make. (And don’t forget — NOT making a choice is the same as choosing whatever the default is.) Whether you need to choose the right doctor, or the right treatment options, have research to read about, or any other aspect of making choices — be pro-active and positive — and don’t just wait for someone to make them for you. Granted, one of God’s menu offerings may be to let someone else choose, but I believe God wants us to make decisions, and take responsbility, ourselves.

Is that religious? It can be. If that’s your comfort level, then take advantage of it! Perhaps one of the experts you consult with will be your pastor or rabbi or priest who can guide you to the right decisions for you, too.

Perhaps the most important aspect of my belief system is what I always ask others to do, too: Pay it forward. Help others help themselves. Each one teach one. The Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Reaching out to others can be one of the most powerful aspects of your own healing, whether that takes place individually, through support groups, as a speaker, through writing, or in any other way you can.

Helping others is the number one item on the menu God has given me, and I choose it every day. It’s delicious and doesn’t contain one single calorie 🙂

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Posted in: Patient Advocacy, Patient Empowerment, Patient Tools, Self Help

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1 Comment

  1. tanmay April 6, 2007

    i quite agree with ur views on the difference in religion and spirituality. after all all religions are meant to make us reach taht inner peace. there are many people i know who are religious most due to the fear of god as inscribe in the books but only a few are really into spirituality like doing good deeds etc. i mean whats te use of goint to the church ,temple,mosque and pray when along the path you neglect the poor beggar and offer no help. what is the purpose of praying if you are least bothered about your aging parents. its all in the mind , i thjink we always know what we are to do in any situation but we normally tend to blame the circumstances ffor our changed actions.