Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Do You Want to Be Well? Part 2 by Thomas Butts

Do You Want to Be Well?
Part II.

by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts

When I left you last week we were giving some thought as to why Jesus asked the invalid man at the Sheep Gate if he really wanted to be well. There is more to this business of being sick and being well than one’s physical condition. Jesus knew this. Good doctors have known this for a long time, even before modern psychology.

I got a rather heavy dose of the Protestant work ethic when I was growing up on a two-mule farm in rural South Alabama during the Great Depression. We were made to feel guilty if we were not working – unless we were sick. Even today I tend to feel a little guilt when I am not working. I read or polish my shoes while I watch television. I’ve always felt a bit of anxiety about taking a day off or going on vacation. But I do not feel guilty at all about watching television without working or just lying around doing nothing if somebody will tell me I am sick.

Being sick gives me permission to do nothing.

I had cataract surgery last year. I remember when patients were required to stay in bed for many days after cataract surgery. I was a little bit disappointed when the doctor said I could go back to the office the next day. I had been looking forward to being sick for at least a week. Can you hear what I am saying? There are degrees of hypochondria. If you do not go past a certain point, it is socially acceptable and relatively harmless.

We all know people who are sick with something all the time. We may even be people who are always sick. We all know people who talk constantly about their illnesses. They frequent the offices of doctors and take loads of medicine every day. They are always looking for a new medication. You hate to see them coming and you dare not greet them by asking, "How are you doing?", because you are stuck for an interminable length of time while they tell you how sick they are. It is obvious that they find their identity in their illness. They do not want to be well.

That is true, debilitating hypochondria, and it is almost impossible to cure. Why? Because they do not want to be well.

I have known a few cases of what I call "severe and advanced hypochondria." These people complicate family life and run up healthcare costs and send their friends running when they see them coming, and cause you not to answer the phone when their number appears on the "caller I.D.". (Thank God for caller I.D.!!) They not only stay sick all the time, but they up the ante if someone else in the family becomes ill. They are always the sickest. They have strange accidents and love to go to the emergency room in the middle of the night. They enjoy having you pray for them as long a you do not pray seriously for them to be well. They enjoy being on the Prayer List because they know that even God cannot take away their precious illnesses they love so much.

A few years ago I said in a sermon that 50% of the people who will show up in doctors offices on Monday morning would be suffering as much or more from psychological and/or spiritual problems as they would be from physically based problems. There were several doctors in my congregation. One of them stopped at the door and said to me, "Your statistic is incorrect." (I thought, O Lord, I have over-stepped the bounds of my profession!) He said, "It is more like 70 or 80 percent."

We will probably never be so emotionally mature as to eliminate the psychological component from our physical illness, but through prayerful reflection we can be aware of "creeping hypochondria." It really is not healthy, and it is a pain to others.

Do you really want to be well?

AN ENCOURAGING WORD for June 28, 2007 - written by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church.

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