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by Randy Becton
I know more about physical pain than I wish I did. But perhaps, compared to you, I really dont know very much at all. For more than twenty-five years, Ive sought to be an encouragement to people battling cancer. Often, they arent feeling very well physically. They may be in emotional distress, physical pain or both. Its hard for me not to notice, since Ive been in similar circumstances from time to time. I was diagnosed with cancer at age 29 and again at 37. By the tender mercies of God, I am currently free from any signs of the disease but physical pain is something I sleep with every night and walk around with every day.
Am I reluctant to bring up the subject? No, though Id probably be a wiser man if I kept it mostly to myself... Almost no one means for you to answer them with yes when they ask, are you in physical pain? Its not that they dont care about you for indeed, they care a great deal for you. They wish you well and would really like to hear you tell them that youre feeling fine.
But if things arent so good, a small dose of reporting is appreciated, especially in a chronic-pain situation. I think I know one of the reasons. Its difficult to hear report after report about a problem that cant be solved. It isnt that we lack sensitivity, either. We are sensitive, but when we find ourselves in a situation we cannot resolve, we get frustrated. Well, thats my theory, anyway! And over the past few years, as I have lived with chronic pain, Ive seen that my loved ones are in pain as they face their own inability to help me.
A little over nine years ago, I purchased Dr. Sherwin B. Nulands book, How We Die: Reflections on Lifes Final Chapter for reasons that were perfectly clear to me at the time, but are foggier now. Maybe I was in my research and writing frame of mind. Or perhaps I thought, this book will help me understand my own struggle to come to peace with the reality that I will experience death, and therefore should have a better grip on this reality, especially in light of being a believer in Christ.
I found the twelfth chapter, The Lessons Learned, to be refreshingly honest and insightful. Dr. Nuland, although a surgeon, showed unusual empathy for his patients, and he worked extraordinarily hard to keep the promises he made, to help them keep their dignity and have an easy death. By that phrase, he meant to help control their pain and to seek to assure them that they would not be left to die alone. This man certainly was speaking a language I could understand.
I remember reading Tolstoys The Death of Ivan Ilyitch, which describes the painful solitude of a death made lonely by the familys pretending that it wasnt happening. Ivan couldnt burden his family with his knowledge, so he laid on the sofa with his face turned away. He received no real understanding and sharing of his story, because everyone acted as though it wasnt true. The lie was that he was only sick. How can we so often conclude that the compassionate way is the way of silence? The physician is sworn to provide the best care and medically, he does. But socially, spiritually, and humanly, the patients best interests may not be as well served.
Ever since I was a young boy, I have told myself that I would have been a doctor, if being a doctor was really as good a way for me to help people as being a minister was. Today I believe that for me being a minister was the better choice for helping people. There are different approaches to healing, but for me, Jesus sacrificial love has always outranked all the others. When people know you really care about what they are going through, and where it hurts the most, they feel loved and understood... at least in my idealized world. In his book, Precepts, Hippocrates wrote, where love of mankind is, there is also love of the art of medicine.
At church, while just in elementary school, he was drawn to Dr. Lukes stories about Jesus compassion for peoples physical problems, and his use of healing power to relieve pain. He was impressed that the Son of God would take the time to deal with the pain of one woman (Luke 10). Dr. Nuland remembers that in medical training, pain was understood as cause/effect, meaning a proper diagnosis paved the way for surgery or medication, and with the bodys amazing power to restore itself, there was little or no discussion of the great mystery of pain.
As a medical resident, Nuland dealt with degrees of pain, but the only studies that were discussed pain control were on medications, biofeedback, and surgical solutions. He observed that the role of the caring physician could be large in the healing process.
To a man of faith, Jesus model was fascinating. Nuland believes God is the father of science and faith. What God can do may be inexplicable but never something impossible. Maybe Nuland is quoting Jesus, who said, With God, all things are possible. (John 7) Sherwin Nuland knows the power of The Great Physician, Jesus Christ.
Are you presently experiencing a new life? Gods word says, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! This new life is a free gift of God through faith Jesus Christ. If you want to know more about this life that only Jesus can give you, sign up for one of our Bible courses. Wherever you are in life, whatever youve done, you can begin again. You may also contact Randy Becton at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions about becoming a new creation.
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