Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Venipuncture and the Essence of Love – Introduction

[This is a working "paper." I’m not sure all this (or the connected posts) is right, and would really love feedback on it]

Today we were practicing drawing blood on each other (everybody’s favorite day in medical school). My partner (who shall remain nameless), had trouble hitting a vein, and so I encouraged them to try again. And again. I now have 13 holes in my skin.

The person felt terrible. Part of it was pride (not being rock star doctors after 11 months of medical school instruction is infuriating for most of us here at Stanford). But part of it, and I would venture to say most of it, was because of the pain that the person caused me. I said that I was happy to be of service. And I really meant it. I was legitimately happier after the session; I was in a significantly more pleasant mood having served the person in this way (and, indirectly, a patient who would not have to get poked). The pain was significant, but the pleasure in service was far greater. But why? What theory of pleasure/pain was I working under? I’m no masochist; pain did not directly become pleasure. I searched for something encouraging to say. I said, “It’s an important part of my religion to love my neighbor as myself, and there aren’t too many opportunities to serve my classmates.” I’m not sure it helped much.

Later in the day, I thought about what I said. Why was it that I connected love with service, and service with pain? I thought of Jesus’ words: “No greater love hath a man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (Jhn 15:13). Christ was no hypocrite; He gave up His life for us day by day in Palestine, and then literally, dying on the cross. But why is that the greatest love? Why isn’t it, “No greater love hath a man than this, that he benefit his friends maximally”? Why was suffering so connected to the Christian definition of love? This is a really important question that I do not have a good answer for yet but will be praying and thinking about in the days, weeks and probably years to come.

The why is still a mystery to me. But the what is clear: love as Christ defines and demonstrates it, is sacrifice. But if that is true, it changes everything. Everyone agrees with “love thy neighbour as thyself,” but the statement has entirely different meanings if love is sacrifice or if love is benefit. We all seek love, and to a lesser extent, we seek to love in relationships and in society. Jesus’ flip of the definition of love threatens to change everything that we thought we knew. Over the next few posts, I’ll discuss some of these implications.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

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