12 Steps to Spiritual Wellness (Even During Illness)

March is spiritual wellness month. I don’t believe that it is a coincidence that it usually coincides with the liturgical season of lent, a time when Christians focus on how the death and resurrection of Christ have transformed our lives.

We are a triune being—spirit, soul and body, so interrelated that the lack of health and wellness in one part of our being affects the other parts.

So, what is spiritual wellness?

For me, spiritual wellness is knowing who I am in Christ, and recognizing that He has a plan and purpose for my life.

But how do I maintain spiritual wellness when I feel as though my identity and purpose is derailed by illness?

That was the question I asked myself when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I lost my job and my hair, and endured a chemotherapy that seemingly stripped me of my identity, plans and purpose.

But God did not leave me stranded in my malady. As I called out to Him, struggling over time, I discovered the following steps to help restore my spiritual health.

12 steps to spiritual wellness:

  1. Journaling – I find writing my thoughts, prayers and feelings helpful as I sort through the plethora of emotions that churn during a health crisis.
  2. Scripture – I ask God to reveal to me what verses are relevant to my situation. Then I read and pray these verses, sometimes over and over. I find the Psalms especially comforting as they cover the gamut of my emotional reactions to illness: sadness, loss, depression, betrayal, grief, fear, anxiety and anger.
  3. Prayer and Praise – Prayer and praise help me to focus on who God is. They help me recognize that, when I feel like my life is out of control, the God of the universe knows exactly what I am going through. He understands me, loves me and has compassion on me. Prayer does not always change my circumstances. But prayer changes me and offers me the ability to cope with my circumstances.
  4. Healthy Relationships – My relationships are among the greatest blessings God has given me. These are the people who have laughed, cried and prayed with me, and helped me through times of crisis. They have been instrumental in honing my character, forming my identity and defining my purpose.
  5. Rest and Relaxation –When I take time to do the things I enjoy, I feel refreshed, whether I read a book, watch a movie, take up in a hobby, listen to music or play an instrument. I find spending time outdoors invigorates me. I love the warmth of the sun on my face and the gentle breezes. Whether my scenery includes mountains, lakes, wildlife, flowers or simply the view from a park bench, the wonder of creation reminds me that no matter what is happening in my life, there is still beauty in my world.
  6. Exercise – When I exercise, I need to remember to choose activities within my current physical limitations. I found this out when I attempted to take a short walk and almost didn’t make it home. Exercise boosts my mood, helps me sleep better and increases my energy.
  7. Laughter – Whether I peruse Far Side cartoon books, watch reruns of I Love Lucy or spend time with funny people, I love to laugh. Laughter releases endorphins and stimulates the immune system. According to Proverbs 17:22, “A happy heart is good medicine and a joyful mind causes healing.”
  8. Let Go – The word for me this year is “Let go!” Let go of anger, bitterness and resentment, the toxic emotions that drain my energy and strength. Negative emotions suppress our immune systems, and contribute to muscle tension, digestive disorders, stress, depression and anxiety.
  9. Confession – When I confess my sins, I acknowledge that I have made wrong choices. I in turn receive forgiveness and the opportunity to make right choices. I am reconciled to God and people, which opens the door to healing from the effects of my sin.
  10. Forgive – When I forgive someone who hurt me, my relationship with God is restored, and I release the other person from my wrath and judgment. I love this quote by Marianne Williamson—“Unforgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die.” Refusing to forgive another only harms me.
  11. Helping Others – When I help others, I reaffirm my sense of purpose. I may not be able to do for others to the extent I was able when I was healthy, but sometimes a simple phone call, text, or a card can bless another person. Doing for another others brings joy, combats depression and reduces stress.
  12. Take a deep breath – A deep breath helps to calm me when I am anxious or stressed. Sometimes I take a deep breath before I open my mouth to speak so that I respond to a conflict rather than react and generate more tension.

How have you learned to restore spiritual wellness during your health crisis?