I’m a father. I have three sons and one daughter and they’re all awesome. I’m also a softie. I’m ‘all grace and no law,’ to use a kind of scriptureal metaphor. Fortunately my wife has better sense than I do and has always been better at being ‘bad cop,’ even though she’s ultimately as big a pushover as I am.
One of the hard things about parenting is speaking hard truths to our children. It has to start early, with simple but firm lessons like ‘don’t talk back,’ or ‘don’t hurt your brother.’ It moves on to more abstractions like ‘don’t lie,’ or ‘treat everyone with kindness as much as you are able.’ It involves punishment for disobedience. Not because we want to punish but because the truths and rules we give our kids are essential for their safety and success in life. ‘Finish the job,’ ‘get an education,’ ‘do your best to stay married,’ ‘don’t abuse alcohol or drugs,’ ‘don’t start fights.’ These are important. And our kids often ignore us, but generally (later, much later, God help us) come back and say ‘huh, you were right about that! Thanks! (Or they suggest they discovered all life-lessons and relevant truths on their own or via Google and their professors.)
But love for my children means speaking the truth, even when that truth is uncomfortable for them and for their mother and me. It’s about health, well-being, joy, success and safety. It’s about truth and justice, about being good and being Godly. It’s about having a rich life, well lived in love, in service, in peace.
Sometimes I dance around the truth with my kids, to my shame. But all too often we dance around the truth with our patients. But the fact is that there are many patients, and we all see them, who won’t help themselves. I see them. They have bad hypertension and won’t go to the free clinic when the appointment is made for them and their medications provided. They won’t check their blood sugar and their diabetes leads to blindness and kidney failure. The battery on the glucometer is just too expensive. (They say while scrolling down their i-Phone.) They can’t get their antibiotic but always, always get their Methadone. They will not go to their mental health appointment but will come to the ER everytime they feel badly. They have seizures but haven’t taken their meds for months. The prescription is at the pharmacy. It’s just too hard to go down the street and get it.
This makes doctors and nurses, social workers and others crazy. Because honest to goodness, we really, truly try. And thus I had this conversation recently. ‘You have to take responsibility for this. You HAVE to go and get your blood pressure medication or you…will….die…young. Do you get this? EVERYONE has tried over and over to help you and you won’t let them. You won’t listen. It’s on you now. Do you understand? I say this because I want you to be healthy, not dead.’
Did she hear me? Did she act? I doubt it. But until we have these conversations, and our administrators and politicians and others encourage them, we’ll be wasting our time, our effort and even our money.
Love is wonderful. Love is difficult. And frequently, real, true love speaks hard truths in order to save and mend lives.