Every patient has a picture of God. And this picture of God shapes how they relate to him. Particularly, one’s response to suffering reveals a glimpse of that picture.
One patient of mine, Sean, came in for mood problems. He related to me about how difficult it was to remain calm. He found little things, usually not bothersome, very irritating. He eventually disclosed the source of his stress. His daughter had been diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder. After initial normal development, she failed to reach milestones in her speech and movement. Furthermore, she was subjected to frequent seizures and breath holding spells.
Sean wasn’t dealing with his daughter’s condition very well. He would be walking through Wal-mart and then notice a young daughter arguing with her father. Everything would zone out around him and he would focus squarely on this for several minutes. In fact, it took someone almost shaking his arm to snap out of the trance.
Sean carried an incredible amount of guilt. He couldn’t sit on the couch longer than 20 minutes before feeling obligated to be doing something for his daughter like earning more money to care for her needs. After playing catch with his son outside, it wouldn’t be long before he felt the need to go back into the house and again attend to the needs of his daughter.
I told Sean he was carrying too much on his shoulders. If he continued like this he would be crushed underneath the weight of it. Somehow he needed to take this weight and turn it over to God or the universe or a higher power. We were now going into more of a spiritual realm so I asked about his religious background and discovered he identified with the Catholic faith.
Sean explained the following: “I have a relationship with God. But how can I turn this problem over to someone that caused this to her? I know I love God because I feel like he has broken my heart by causing this to happen to my daughter.”
Now there were tears streaming down his eyes. I could see the struggle on his face as he elaborated and then seemed to come to a conclusion: “I know your right. I need to surrender. But I’m just not there yet.”
The Main Question
One question that is particularly at the forefront when someone is going through suffering is this: Is God for me or against me? Is he someone who will bless, help and prosper me? Or is he a different sort of God who withholds, abandons or even harms me? How a person responds to this question reveals their picture of God.
One view of God leads toward to deeper trust, more gratitude and a greater capacity for love. The other leads one toward anger, resentment and less capacity for love.
Suffering is not optional. But our response to it is a choice. I can choose to be bitter or better. I can open up my heart to what God is revealing to me in the suffering. Or I can close myself off to him and harden my heart.
The duty of a Christian medical provider is to gently lead the patient down a path that will help them become more open to God. This is done less by actively defending God, and more by engaging in words or acts that seek to bless someone in the name of God.
The Rest of the Story
It was time to wrap things up with my patient: “Let me tell you something, Sean, everyday we pray that God would bring us a patient we can minister to. Today, I think that patient is you.”
Sean nodded his head, “You know, it’s interesting because I don’t know how I ended up in this particularly clinic. I was looking down the list and I just chose you guys. But I think you’re right. God lead me here.”
Sean still has a skewed picture of God. But in that moment God was present. And through our interaction, I hope his picture of God straightened out just a little bit.