Timeship / Pixabay  (I like the image of the weary Jesus.  Loved everyone, but they were probably exhausting even to him, who often took time away to rest and pray.)

 

Loving Doesn’t Always Mean Liking.

 

Every physician struggles with a fundamental problem.  We entered medicine to take care of human beings; to heal their diseases, save them from their wounds.  To comfort them in their suffering.  Yet, at some point, every one of us comes to a stark realization.  Some of those people aren’t very nice!  A great deal of what we call frustration, or burnout, probably stems from that very disconnect.  The people we are dedicated to helping are not people we really want to help!

Christian physicians struggle with the question on a spiritual level.  We are called to love everyone, as Christ loves.  The words of Jesus are replete with his instructions in this area: (warning: paraphrased scripture ahead)  ‘In as much as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.’  ‘You saw me hungry and gave me food, you saw me thirsty and gave me drink, you saw me sick and in prison and visited me.’  ‘If your enemy strikes you, turn the other cheek.  If he asks for your robe, give him your cloak also.  If he asks you to go with him a mile, go with him two.’  ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.’

But often, the people we see in the world’s hospitals, clinics and emergency rooms are not very easy to love; whether we’re talking about staff or patients!  What do we do?  Are we failures?  Is our faith insincere?  Can faith co-exist with the practice of medicine, or will it be shattered on the rocks of reality?

Let me reassure you that we can love without liking, just as we can like without loving.  To get the answer, we have to go back to the source of the admonitions.  Jesus loved everyone; but he sometimes became angry.  He corrected religious leaders of the day.  He cleared the temple with a whip, knocking over tables as he went.  He instructed a group of men, ready to stone and adulteress, ‘whoever among you is without sin, let him cast the first stone.’  He didn’t like their actions, he didn’t harm them or even speak coldly to them.  He opened their eyes and let them see the truth.  And all along, he loved them.  The woman at the well, who had multiple husbands, he sent away saying, ‘go forth and sin no more.’

Even his disciples seemed to stress him, just as our co-workers stress us.  He was frequently frustrated with their lack of faith, their pettiness, their hunger for power and position. He reminded them; and he loved them.

We needn’t feel some fuzzy emotion for the drug abuser, the child abuser, the drunk, the sharp-tongued retiree or the bitter consultant.  We shouldn’t expect ourselves to always ‘feel’ affection toward the patient with hateful views or Nazi tattoos.  (Or Che Guevera t-shirts, a personal pet peave of mine.)

Love is not that.  Love is to do the right thing.  Love is to be patient when we are berated on the phone; to act in the best interest of the abusive patient (sometimes by saying ‘no, you can’t have that.’)  We love by doing the work we are called to, as well as we can and with as much compassion as we can muster.  And love will require us, frequently, to ask the Lord for more love to share.  Our wells can run dry at times.

We must remember that love is not a feeling, but an action.  Love is a verb.  This way, it does not depend on our state of mind, our sense of fatigue, our lack of sleep or our anger over lawsuits, regulations, money, insurance or anything else.  Love says, ‘do the right thing no matter what you’re feeling.’

In time, as we grow more like our Master, we will feel more love for those who trouble us.  The Bible says that Jesus ‘looked upon the people and had compassion for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.’  I find myself, sometimes, looking at the nastiest, most annoying patients and feeling an odd surge of sorrow for them.  Oh, don’t be deceived; they still make me angry. But over time, my anger is changing; hopefully from sinful to righteous.

So, when we become angry, or frustrated; when we don’t know what to do with our patients or co-workers, and yet feel a desire to love them, let us be assured that we can love them.  But that we love them first with our hands and mind, our actions and responses.

That’s love.  And that’s the kind of love Jesus calls us to show the world for Him.

God bless you in your work!

Edwin

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