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 was at a loss for words. I discovered early the best comfort 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 which strengthened my objectivity in stressful situations. Some of this 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 desire to help strengthen homes and marriages. We had our own struggles early, and as our own marriage was made stronger by the love of Christ we wanted to help others with similar problems. We have taught young adult Sunday school classes for a long time. This was where we met one particular couple who were 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 we didn’t enjoy our morning jog. The relationship was one like brothers, and I always looked forward to awakening an hour earlier than normal to spent time with him.
Unfortunately his work responsibilities began requiring him to be out-of-town more often, and the days he was in town he needed to be at home. Our jogging times together came to a halt, so I continued exercising solo. 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 breaking up. There were some issues which seemed insurmountable, and the separation his work required had made the entire situation worse. The more she talked and wept the more we were convinced the problem was very serious.
As she was trying her best to tell us their problems 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 having 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 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 spilled out and I began crying. The more I tried to speak 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, but we did assure her of our love for them and we would be praying God would give her wisdom in moving toward healing. I do remember 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 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 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.”
These are Biblical truths which 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. This couple I am delighted to report were able to work through their problems to a resolution, and now forty years later are still happily married with grandchildren. It is all to the glory of God!