"Now that we are finished taking care of me, how are you doing, Doc?"
"I'm fine, John."
"I worry about you --- so many patients, some of them so difficult."
"I'm fine; it's what I do."
"I know; I know; but I'm still worried about you. I tell you what: you pray for me and I'll pray for you."
“I’m fine” is pretty much my answer when patients or colleagues ask me how I am. “I’m fine” whether or not my home is imploding or my kid is in jail or my debts are greater than my income or my stomach pain makes me think of pancreatic cancer.
When I think about my reasons for being so reserved in sharing life’s difficulties, I realize that some of this is good. There is something noble about walking into the storm without flinching. No one respects a whiner. If I can’t handle my own difficulties, how can I manage those of my patients? As William Osler said in his valedictory address at the University of Pennsylvania in 1889, “Even with disaster ahead and ruin imminent, it is better to face them with a smile, and with head erect, than to crouch at their approach.”
But nobility is not the whole picture. We may face our challenges bravely, but we often live in pain. That pain must be dealt with, must be managed and must be used for the glory of God. How do we do so and maintain our Osler-like “Aequanimitas?” Though we can pretend not to hurt, we cannot not hurt in this life. We will all be fine ultimately but we are often not fine presently.
The only good way to bear our pain is to share our pain. We need not do so with each of our patients and colleagues but we must share our pain with someone. Certainly we must share it with God; our Lord clearly understands suffering and stands with his pierced hands outstretched to take us in. Our Lord is ready to hear our grief and hold us close.
We also need to share our pain with others, in spite of our hesitancy. Some of us can do so with a spouse, others with a pastor and others with a small group or a close personal friend. Each of us needs to bare our souls to someone and open ourselves to their love and wisdom. Those of us who have no one to trust should deliberately seek with God to find them and begin a life of sharing; not only for ourselves but also for the good of those we serve.
We are Christians. “I’m fine” is ultimately true, no matter this world’s complexities. But we will do a better job of making it fine for others if we open up to a chosen few in the Lord’s presence and share our deep concerns.
Let me not be alone with my pain. Help me with humility to share my struggles with you and with others you have chosen for me.