Throughout the years of my medical practice, I experienced the pain and anguish of many patients and their families when an operative report was not good, or when a person with a terminal illness departed this earth. I always had good intentions to bring peace and comfort where there was suffering, but like so many, I often was at a loss for words. I discovered early that the best comfort for most, was in just having loving and caring friends present. A heart-felt handshake or hug says volumes to the anguished and the distraught. The Bible teaches us that we are ‘to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” As a surgeon with lots of experience, I trained myself to keep my personal feelings and emotions in check, and that strengthened my objectivity in certain stressful situations. Some of that attitude was also present in my personal life and may have been interpreted as a lack of compassion.
For most of our married life, Cathy and I have had a heart for helping to strengthen homes and marriages. We had some personal struggles early, and as our own marriage was made stronger by the love of Christ, we have desired to help others with similar problems. We have taught young adult Sunday school classes for a long time. That is where we met one particular couple that was only a few years younger. We had lots in common besides the Sunday school class; we were strongly committed to our marriages, our children were approximately the same ages, we desired to grow stronger in our spiritual lives and we wanted our church to grow stronger in its’ ministries.
He and I bonded quickly and soon became running mates as we began jogging together in the early morning hours before work. We stuck with our daily exercise schedule and continued jogging together for several years. As we huffed and puffed into better health, we shared a number of common things such as sports, church related issues, spiritual truths we were learning, and even advice to each other concerning common marital struggles. Our conversations were many, but were never too deep or heavy that we didn’t enjoy our morning jog. The relationship was one like brothers might have, and I always looked forward to awakening an hour earlier than normal, just to spent time with him. Unfortunately, his work responsibilities began requiring him to be out-of-town more often, and the few days he was in town each week or every other week, he needed that time at home. Our jogging times together came to a halt, but I continued exercising solo. At about the same time, I began teaching a senior adult men’s Sunday school class, so I didn’t see my friend for weeks if not months at a time.
One morning when I happened to be home with no surgical cases scheduled, we received a phone call from my friend’s wife asking if she could come over right away and speak with both Cathy and me. She was tearful over the phone saying their marriage was in a very difficult place, and she needed counsel from both of us. We prepared ourselves with prayer while she was driving over. She sat at our breakfast room table and poured out her heart to us with tears, telling us their marriage was in great danger of dissolving. There were some issues that seemed insurmountable and the separation that his work required at that time had only made the entire situation worse. The more she talked and wept, the more we were convinced that the problem was indeed serious.
As she was trying her best to tell us their problems without giving too many specific details, I was thinking about our relationship with them as a couple and my close friendship with him over the previous several years. It was as if a brother and sister-in-law were dealing with such a problem, and the longer I thought about my response, the less objective I was becoming in my heart. When she then paused and asked the question, “What do you think I should do?” I slowly began to respond with carefully chosen words and as much wisdom as I had for the moment. In the middle of a sentence, my emotions, which I had kept in check up to this point, spilled out and I began crying. The more I tried to talk, the less able I was to put sentences together. I finally said, “I am so sorry for these tears and my lack of ability to say very much at all.” She said quietly, “That’s ok, they seem to be helping.” I don’t remember any advice I was able to give her following that, but we did assure her of our love for them and that we would be praying that God would give her wisdom in taking the next steps toward healing. I do remember us telling her not to cross any bridges she could not get back over. We prayed for her and told her we would be available for any help we might give.
We learned several lessons that morning with our friend. Always be available for family or friends whenever difficult problems or tragedies occur. Before you counsel, prepare your heart with prayer and with fasting if there is enough time. Be sensitive that it is more important to listen than it is to talk. Avoid using clichés like “time will heal all wounds,” or “everything is going to be ok,” or even “God never puts on us more than we can bear.” There are some Biblical truths that are best left unspoken at times of great emotional distress. The most endearing help and comfort from God comes when loving family and friends come with a hug or a handshake, and often the best advice is expressed through tears and not words. With this particular couple I am delighted to report they were able to work through their problems to a resolution, and now 30 years later are still happily married with grandchildren. It is all to the glory of God!