Will You Defend My Life?
There was a recent scene in the hit show This Is Us that struck me. One of the main characters, Randall, was at his company Christmas party. In an attempt to find one of his co-workers, he went to the balcony where he found Andy preparing to jump off the building to end his life. Andy tells Randall that he’s destroyed both his marriage and career and no longer has anything to live for.
Randall calmly jumps to action. He eventually talks Andy off the ledge by communicating to him the power of forgiveness, that everyone carries pain in their life, and that he should think about the family he was leaving behind if he chose to jump. Randall has a very important job in this scene, reminding this man the value of his life when he doesn’t see it anymore.
If you were in this situation and there was someone like Andy in your life who wanted to jump to their death, would you let them? I assume that the vast majority of us wouldn’t let him jump. I assume we would try our best to convey to this person that their life has a purpose and is worth living regardless of the circumstance. Why don’t we take this same approach to those who are terminally ill?
There’s an emphasis in our current culture allowing those with a terminal illness to end their lives through medication or malnutrition. How do we approach those who are in the impossibly tough situation of facing a terminal illness with compassion but also the conviction that these people, made unique in the image and likeness of God have more to live for.
In order to be truly loving in our response toward those who face a terminal illness, we must be willing to invest more deeply into encountering the lives of those in our own community who suffer and to reclaim the meaning of suffering in our culture.
- We must adopt true empathy and understanding. In order to respect the dignity of another, it is important to practice and adopt a disposition of empathy. That is, entering into the experience of the other. It is not enough to listen but to walk with and accompany the suffering through their trial. Before talking to others about this issue, we must always begin with, “I can’t imagine how hard this situation is…” Actually entering into the suffering can go a long way in making the other person feel like less of a burden.
- We must reclaim the meaning of suffering. We live in a culture that runs away from and even rejects our suffering. Suffering shows it’s meaning by bringing people together and inviting them into an authentically human experience. How can we help those who are suffering see it in this light? We can begin by welcoming vulnerability into our own lives. Practicing vulnerability in our own relationships in the little ways will begin to create a culture of unity and bring positivity out of life’s more painful experiences.
- We must focus on alleviating suffering, not eliminating sufferers. There is a danger when we focus too much on eliminating sufferers, which is taking place in our current culture. “We throw creativity out of the window. Medical diligence goes out the window. The need to actually solve the problem, to examine the patient, and find a solution goes out the window.” When we focus on the individual suffering and alleviating the pain, advancements can be made on both a medical and human level.
Finally, it is important to recognize that this is not just some far-reaching issue out there, but is most devastating in the hearts, lives, and families of sufferers in our own community. Please allow me to share the story of Liz. She has since passed on, but during her illness, she beautifully witnessed to the goodness of life in every stage, in sickness and health.