Tuesday, February 15, 2011

#8 "It Is Not Those Who Are Healthy That Need a Physician"

     I see a variety of people in my psychiatric practice--roughly 60 to 75 patients per week. When I do a psychiatric evaluation, it includes a review of medical records and test results from other physicians and also counselors and psychologists. Prospective patients are required to fill out a four-page self assessment questionnaire prior to their visit that describes their reason for seeking help, their past medical and psychiatric history, events in their lives that are causing them stress, their family and marital history, their education, work, and military experience, their religious beliefs, and their drug and alcohol history. The patient returns this form to me before I schedule the first appointment. Once I see the patient in the office for the evaluation, I already know quite a lot about him from reviewing the records and the self-assessment form, but I still always ask, "Why are you here?" Sometimes I also say, "Why now?"
     One might be surprised at the answers I get:
"My probation officer thinks I should see a shrink."
"I want one of those happy pills."
"My wife says she's gonna leave me if I don't see somebody."
"My lawyer says if I get a psychiatric evaluation before I see the judge, he might not put me in jail."
"My family doctor won't give me any more Xanax."
"I dunno."
My tongue in cheek "favorite" is the non-verbal answer:  a cold stare with arms crossed--obviously someone who does NOT want to be in a psychiatrist's office and who was forced to show up.
     My true favorite, however, is the person who says, "I have tried everything I know to do, and I'm not getting better. I'm at my wit's end and just hoping there is something you can do." That person actually wants help and may be willing to do what I suggest after we have completed the evaluation. He may come to trust me enough, once I have spent some time with him, that he will go along with my written treatment plan and even take medications as prescribed. But, if he reads no further than the first few lines of the treatment plan, the only thing he is going to be doing is taking medicine but not doing all the rest of the tasks I suggest for him to help him get better.
      I wonder what God thinks about those of us who show up to "see" Him at a church service. Does He ask us, "Why are you here?" or "Why now?" Is Sunday morning worship an appointment we keep because someone says we should be there or because we are looking for fire insurance? Are we truly seeking a remedy for our illness, or do we even believe we are sick? Perhaps some of us are hoping to escape punishment for our misdeeds. Despite the reasons we go, we sometimes receive something entirely different than we expected because there is a Spirit that draws us to Christ.

"Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8 "And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 "of sin, because they do not believe in Me;  10 "of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more;  11 "of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged."  John 16:7-11

 Somehow, by this Helper, we are convicted of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.
     Jesus said, "They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick." Matthew 9:12

     It doesn't do much good for a person to come to my office for an appointment if he doesn't think he has a problem, although it does give me the opportunity to ask questions and shine a light on possible problem areas that become evident in the interview. A little education sometimes goes a long way also.
     Perhaps showing up for church affords the same chance for the sick sinner who believes he's well and whole. God's word is like a living search light of the soul.

 "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Hebrews 4:12

God's word works like that.

10 As the rain and the snow
   come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
   without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
   so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
   It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
   and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." Isaiah 55:10-11

     Wow! I wish the advice I give my patients would always "accomplish what I desire". But, it doesn't. The patient has to be willing to cooperate with the treatment plan and with me. In short, he needs to have faith in me, his physician, and in my knowledge and skills, have patience, and be willing to make some lifestyle changes. If he does these things, then he has a better chance for recovery.
     But, I don't have the ability to make someone "whole", as Jesus does.

"For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;" Colossians 2:9-10

    Completeness, wholeness. Isn't that what we all seek? Many of my patients have made terrible decisions in their lives attempting to fill an empty hole with poor substitutes for Jesus: drugs, alcohol, relationships, sex, spending, and food are some of them. I have been guilty of some of the same misguided behavior. But, one must learn that he will not find that wholeness in any of those places. It is found only through our Lord. 
      Jesus was among sinners dining in the house of a  tax-collector when the Pharisees asked Him why he was there. His answer is quoted above. Some versions read, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.", but "whole" or "of strength" is a better translation, (according to Strong's). 
     Perhaps those in attendance at the dinner didn't realize that they were not "whole", but Jesus did. He knew that they were in need of Him. He was the Great Physician making a house call. In fact, the same story as told in Luke 5:27-29 reveals that the tax collector was Levi, the disciple who had just responded to Jesus' invitation, "follow me", by leaving everything behind and beginning to follow Jesus. The dinner was actually a reception that Levi was giving for Jesus! He "received Him!" Levi, who had all the money he could desire, found that wealth did not fill him; he needed something more. When he found it, he wanted to share it with his friends whom he realized were also sick and needy.
     Don't we do that even with the little things that we find make our lives better? We share recipes,  recommend hairdressers, tout certain vitamin supplements, and try diets that have worked for others. We readily recommend good doctors, but do we just as freely trust our lives to the reputation of that Great Physician? Do we refer others to Him?
     My treatment plans recommend more than prescriptions medications. I address diet, exercise, therapy, 12-step groups, supplements, substances to avoid, habits to stop, tests to be done, and follow-up. God also has a  treatment plan for our lives. Do we follow it? Or do we not get past the prescription of John 3:16?
     It is not health, but sickness that drives someone to seek a physician. And, it is not wholeness, but brokenness that drives us to the Lord. I praise Him for bringing me to a point of brokenness in my own life so that I am able to know Him now and experience His abundant grace and healing balm. I will talk more about this point of healing in my next blog. I believe that it is from this place that I can then offer the same medicine to others and point them to the Great Physician.

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