Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Lesson on Suffering

Several weeks ago, a neighbor brought me (Jeff) a Guardabarranco with a severely shattered wing.  The Guardabarranco is the national bird of Nicaragua and it is beautiful.

Andrew researched how to bandage a wing and we set to it.  Once the bird was anesthetized, I could see that the humerus was severely broken and was protruding from the skin.  I already had an idea of how this was going to end up, but Andrew wanted to give it our best effort, so we tried to re-position the bones and place a bandage.

Two days later, the bandage had slipped with all of the birds efforts to get it off, and the humerus was once again exposed and looking dark in color.  The next day was Surgery Saturday, so I thought that I would let my students decide how to proceed.  As I presented the case to them, I made a cultural observation that Bethany has written about before (The Sanctity of Life 6/9/12).  I relayed to my students our observation of the contrast between the culture of the U.S. that seeks to avoid suffering compare to the Nicaraguan culture that seeks to preserve life even if intense suffering is imminent.  I think that they took some pride in the observation.  I then shared with them a quote from a book I had recently read.

So, the treatment options were:

  1. Continue to place bandages as needed for 4-6 weeks with a 99% chance of failure, bone infection and death, and a 1% chance of recovery and a life of captivity (this bird was very distressed to be was suffering regardless of it's wing).  
  2. Amputate the broken wing and remove the protruding bone that was now black.  Destined to live in captivity forever.
  3. Euthanize.  (this had my vote)
All, except one of the students, wanted to give this bird every chance to live even if it required suffering.  Even Andrew voted for amputation because he didn't want to consider euthanasia; he was becoming attached to this bird.

Well, we amputated the wing but the bird died 36 hours later.  The students and Andrew were sad, but didn't regret their decision.  I still think that a different treatment option should have been chosen (euthanasia) and I wonder if that reveals something about my character.  I do seek to remove myself from suffering.  I am tempted to choose comfort (in excess) every time.  But what is the opposite position?  To choose and pursue suffering and discomfort?  That would be foolishness at best and crazy at worst.  There is a clinical diagnosis for such a person: masochistic.

I am thankful that the Bible is not silent on such an important topic.  As I read the writings of Peter, James and Paul it is plain that they did not shrink away from suffering (I am thinking of the times after the teachable moment when Peter denied his best friend).  They knew the value of suffering, in particular, suffering for Christ.  I still have so much to learn and understand.  I am a product of my culture and my own humanness...I want to be rescued from all sources of suffering and I want to pursue all things comfortable.  The part that boggles my mind is that if I will stop seeking my own comfort and will instead accept the gift of the sufferings that Jesus endured on my behalf, for my sin (like selfish pursuits of comfort), then I am promised a suffering-free, joy-filled, eternal-existence with him.

Malcolm Muggeridge:
"Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful, with particular satisfaction.  Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness...In other words, if it ever were to be possible to eliminate affliction from our earthly existence by means of some drug or other medical mumbo jumbo...the result would not make life delectable, but to make it too banal or trivial to be endurable. This of course is what the cross [of Christ] signifies, and it is the cross more than anything else, that has called me inexorably to Christ.  (Homemade, July 1990)