Hope. There are many of us struggling right now, searching for some light at the end of a dark and threatening tunnel. Many of us, or our loved ones, are dealing with physical problems that are overwhelming. We are facing diseases or diagnoses from which there seems to be no relief, no rescue, no hope.
“Doc, tell me, after all those years in the ER, how did you deal with all of the bad things you saw? How do you and others in the medical field handle that?”
That question came from a radio talk-show host based in Florida. We were talking about one of my books, and it was a fair question -- one I had been asked several times before. Yet, it was one that is always difficult to answer.
Fortunately, for those of us in medicine, the majority of the problems we see are self-limiting – with the right treatment and a little time, they will get better. Frequently, the most important element is time. The human body is an amazing creation, possessing an ability to heal itself in an effort to survive.
In my own family, we have recently experienced the rapid resolution of a strep throat, an ear infection, a fractured arm and a busted forehead. All of these are significant in the moment, but with a little help and a little time, they go away.
Some things don’t go away. There are injuries or illnesses that our bodies are unable to take care of, even with the best help that’s currently available. Again from my own family, there has been inoperable and life-ending melanoma, end-stage heart disease, and progressive and relentless Parkinson’s disease. Many of you can add to that list. Probably all of us can. But most of us don’t like to think or talk about that. Mortality is an uncomfortable reality. As a physician, I want things to get better and go away. As a husband, father, and grandfather, that’s what I want too. But that’s not the reality. One day, each of us will surely face this.
The radio interviewer was right. Those of us who have worked in the ER have experienced a lot of bad things. So how did I answer him?
I had some help. Almost five hundred years ago, Martin Luther penned the words of his most famous hymn, drawing on Psalm 46. These were the early days of the Reformation. Times were perilous and life expectancies short. Yet, Luther understood the realities of this existence, and he made it clear where his hope was founded.
“A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing.
Our helper He amid the flood,
of mortal ills prevailing.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also.
The body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still;
His kingdom is forever.”
That’s a powerful statement of faith. And while Luther probably didn’t intend for his hymn to be used as a Christmas carol, it certainly seems appropriate, at least to me. For in the midst of the hustle and bustle of this time of year -- and for some of us, the heartache and loneliness -- the real reason for this season, the real message to each of us is one of hope. It’s not just the music or the gift-giving or the merriment. And it’s not just the celebration of a baby born two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. It’s the knowledge that this baby, Jesus, would one day complete a wondrous and unfathomable work on a desolate cross, forever freeing us from all of our “mortal ills”.
Martin Luther understood this, and shares his understanding with us, even today.
And that was my response to the interviewer. When faced with a terrible circumstance in the ER, with the finality of a terminal diagnosis or even death, we are given the unfailing promise that the “Great Physician” will one day remove all pain and suffering, all trials and grief.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death
or mourning or crying or pain,
for the old order of things has passed away.”
That’s a reason for hope – and this is the season.
Dr. Robert Lesslie is a graduate of Dixie High School and Erskine College. He is current an emergency room doctor in Rock Hill. Lesslie can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org