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Why Christians Need to Work on Their Bedside Manner

There's nothing worse than an uncaring doctor when you are sick

My father died in 1995 of cancer. Sadly, the the final few weeks of his life was full of pain. In fact, as I grew up, I really do not recall a day when he was not ill. He had tuberculosis in his early 20's, and as a result had a lung  removed. He suffered greatly with asthma and some other ailments, but nothing caused him more grief than his headaches.

Migraines; not the kind that could be taken away by over the counter drugs or by a 3 or 4 Tylenol 3's. Even more potent prescriptions like Percodan, 222's, injections of morphine and even different combinations of narcotics and barbiturates all had little effect. Constant visits to hospital emergency wards (literally almost weekly), acupuncture, massage therapy, whatever was prescribed and tried next, proved ineffective through the years. 

Its funny how certain things stand out to me all these years later, such as those doctors and nurses who were thoughtful, empathetic, considerate; those who had an amazing "bedside manner." But then there were the few who would have put Dr. Gregory House to shame. (You know what I mean, if you've ever watched the U.S. television series by FOX called "House.") I'll never forget these individuals because of how cold, indifferent and insensitive they were as they administered their "help."  I've never personally been ill enough to need assistance like that, and prayerfully never will. But I could see how the completely unsympathetic attitudes that some displayed hurt my dad, and made him regret that he had come for the help to begin with. Somehow even the severe pain he suffered was worth putting up with, if only to not have to be put through the indignity of his caregivers not caring.

Not being a doctor or nurse myself, I can't imagine how difficult their job must be. I'm sure having to assist people who are suffering all day long can make one weary. The times must come, especially after a long shift in an emergency ward, when it becomes very difficult to keep feeling the pain of others in such a way that you could continue to be empathetic in every interaction. But to that to the person who is ill, who is feeling alone, afraid, vulnerable and is unsure of what is going to happen, the "bedside manner" of the attending nurse or physician is crucial.

One with good bedside manner comforts and encourages the patient, is sensitive to how the person is feeling, and because of this uses his or her vocal tones, body language and presence to calm the patient,  and let them know that they are there to help. The one with poor bedside manner ends up leaving the patient worried, concerned, and anxious.

Jesus was the ultimate physician

Jesus; who was of course the ultimate physician, had a tremendous bedside manner. He was always sensitive, concerned, and aware of not only the physical disease that the person was suffering with, but also of how vulnerable, afraid, and insecure that person would be feeling.

One of the most moving and touching stories in all of scripture provides us with an example of Jesus' incredible bedside manner. In Mark 7:31-35, as Jesus was making his way through town, He was presented with a man who was both deaf and mute. Read this short story, and look at Jesus' wonderful example of how to treat people when they are in their despair:

"Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.  After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which means, "Be opened!"). At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly."

Not being one who has suffered such an infirmity, I did some minor research on what it is like to be deaf. I found a letter written by Ludwig Van Beethoven in October of 1808 to his brother Carl, as he poured out his heart on the different levels of emotional pain he suffered by being unable to hear. He used words like "Solitude," "misunderstood," "no relaxation in society," "entirely alone," "an outcast," "fear," "awkward," suspicious," embarrassed" and "confused.[i]"  These are just some of the feelings a deaf person lives with. Likewise, then, was it with this man, that Jesus met that day.

And so what of Jesus' bedside manner with this man? The Lord did something quite beautiful; He took the hand of the man, lead him off to the side to be alone with him to heal him in private. No crowds, no chaos, no show. Here was a man who would have lived a life of being misunderstood, who could not relax in society, who felt entirely alone, an outcast, awkward, suspicious, embarrassed and confused. Jesus, in his caring way knew this, (and so as to not turn this healing into some kind of grandiose show where the feelings of insecurity would only be ampliphied), Jesus took him aside to be alone with him, to treat him in private. To Jesus this poor man was not a show, but a man, who had feelings and emotions, and who needed to be treated with both respect and sensitivity.[ii] Jesus wanted to calm his fears, and let him know that He was there to help and not harm.

Then, in a continuing fashion of heightened concern for this gentleman, Jesus put his fingers in the man's ears, spit and touched the man's tongue. The ancient world had a curious belief in the healing power of saliva.[iii] Jesus of course knew that spit had no healing properties, but because the deaf man believed that it did, the Lord, (in his gentle and thoughtful way) administered an ancient form of healing, so that the man knew that Jesus was there to heal him, and not harm him.

Time and time again throughout scripture, Jesus displayed his ability to be thoughtful and understanding to the frailties and vulnerabilities of the human psyche and soul.

Have you been a caring, or uncaring physician? The truth can hurt!

What does this have to do with helping homosexuals, or Christians who are same gender attracted? Everything.

Trust me when I say that living with homosexuality as your past, and sometimes even your present, is not at all easy in the church. It can be lonely, frustrating, and confusing.

Regardless of the tremendous victories I have had, (and the incredible ways that God has changed and blessed me), I have been often been filled with guilt, fear of rejection, fear of being laughed at, and gossiped about. I have lived every day feeling different than everyone else, like an outsider.

It's been bad enough to be the "butt end" of taunting and jokes in the world, but you can't imagine how deep the knife goes, when they come from my Christian brothers. I have heard countless jokes about homosexuals from men in our churches; not realizing who it was that was sitting right beside them while they spouted off their homophobic stories. I have spent years feeling like my sin is the only one that cannot be discussed, because I have felt like there is no safe place to go, there is no one who understands, and it is just too dangerous to really talk about what is going on inside.

Sadly, I have been in the presence of Christians who have laughed at the plight of others, used the words "gay," "homo," "queer," and "fag" when referring to other people, while everyone in the room had a tremendous laugh.  I have listened to Christians tell me that if they ever met a gay person, they would never be able to study the bible with them. I even had a Christian, and respected leader, tell me that all "homos should be taken out back and shot." I've had fathers tell me they would rather their son be a murderer than a homosexual. (sadly, I'm not making this stuff up.) And every time, slowly another piece of me would die inside, as it continued to be confirmed for me that "my church" was not a safe place, nor was it an "Ambassador of Jesus" when we talked like this.

And for those who knew of my situation, I witnessed how some (not all, but some) would hug to warmly greet every other man in the room, but when they got to me, would only hold out their hand, and sometimes not even that. 

And then there have been the insensitive comments when someone was trying to "help." Many well meaning Christians have given some of the most ridiculous, un-thoughtful and simplistic answers to same gender attracted Christians in their attempt to help: "Wear tighter pants," "date more girls," "play more sports," "look at heterosexual porn," "pray harder," and "have more faith."

As I mentioned earlier, when my dad sought help from the medical profession, and came into contact with someone with terrible bedside manner, somehow even the severe pain was worth putting up with, if only to not have to be put through the indignity of his caregivers not caring, or not acting like they care.

We need a culture change

Brothers and sisters, many of us need to repent and significantly improve on our "bedside manner." In fact, we need a culture change in our church in regards to how we think of this issue. There was a quality of Jesus that drew people to him, regardless of what they had done. He did not look down on people, He did not pull away, He did not reject or rebuff people, and He did not laugh or joke at the expense of others.

We need a "culture change" in Jesus' church when dealing with homosexuals (and probably a few other demographics as well.) It is not right to judge those outside of the church, because they are homosexual (1 Corinthians 5:12), (though many Christians seem to relish in doing so). Equally so, we must strive to not be insensitive, or to joke about those, in the church who live with same gender attractions. (Galatians 6:1, 1 Corinthians 13)

Same gender attracted Christians are heroes. They know that God's Biblical design for sexual intimacy is to be exclusively reserved between that of a man and woman bound together in marriage. It is for that very reason why these devoted disciples struggle and battle with their same gender attractions. They know that regardless of the fact that these emotions and attractions are very real, they go against what God wants for human sexuality. So they deny themselves everyday, (and sometimes every minute of everyday) and choose another path. They do not want to disobey God, so they "arrange their lives in such a manner that they can live faithfully to the understanding of God's call on their lives as persons created in the image of God." [iv] 

So when it comes to your brothers and sisters who come from a homosexual past, I ask: Should this kind of devotion not be applauded? Should these disciples of Jesus not be used as an example of what it means to deny oneself every day to follow Jesus, rather than joked about?

Like Beethoven who was deaf, same gender attracted Christians have spent most of their time living in solitude, feeling misunderstood, alone, awkward, embarrassed and confused. We need your help. We need you to be sensitive with your words and comments. We need you to not pull away. We need you to have Jesus type "bedside manners."

If one with good bedside manners comforts and encourages, is sensitive to how the person is feeling and because of this uses his or her vocal tones, body language and presence to calm the patient, and let them know that they are there to help; and the one with poor bedside manner ends up leaving the patient worried, concerned and anxious, then ask yourself: When dealing with a broken person needing some compassion, which one are you

[i] Beethoven, Ludwig V. "Immortal Glory." A Beethoven Reader. Ed. F. V. Grunfeld. New York, NY: Columbia Masterworks, 1972. 13.

[ii] Barclay, William. The Gospel of Mark. 3rd ed. Edinburgh, Scotland: St. Andrew P, 1953. 182-83.

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Yarhouse, Mark A., and Lori A. Burkett. Sexual Identity : A Guide to Living in the Time Between the Times. New York: University P of America, Incorporated, 2003. 8.



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