Lenten Devotion: Look, Listen
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Job’s impassioned defense of himself, after trials too painful to endure, is stirring to us. We are with him deeply. It’s hard to imagine going through his losses with anything resembling the surety he displays. It’s hard to imagine that after all his suffering, he still has his story.
In my role as a palliative care chaplain, I work with plenty of “worthless physicians.” When the surgery has brought lethal complications, when the cancer returns, when the breathing test fails, our doctors come to the end of their expertise in medicine. It is in these impossible situations where many will, resigned, say: “There are no more treatments we have to offer.” It’s true that in absence of possible cure, feelings of worthlessness and powerlessness frustrate us, clinician and patient alike. And it is in these situations that palliative medicine comes in. We enter not to offer a cure but to listen for a story. Who are you? What are your hopes, your concerns? What is your source of strength and support? What is most meaningful in the end of life? We seek healing in impossible situations by listening and attending to grief, loss, and pain. It is powerful for our patients and families to speak fearlessly about what is most important. The chance to claim our stories is a path to healing, even when no cure is possible. And it can redeem the physicians: It turns out that if we can offer care in line with a patient’s values, we are giving the best care possible. Caring for a patient’s spiritual or emotional need is the best care possible. And to do that, we must listen.
In this passage, Job shows us the power of silence. When we feel like we have nothing left to offer, we can offer silence, and listen, and attend.
Palliative Care Chaplain, Harborview Medical Center, Seattle
SFTS MDiv 2013