As dentists, we have to check our patient’s medical history before performing any dental treatment, especially tooth removal. We generally refer patients with uncontrolled medical conditions (like raised blood sugar levels or blood pressure) to the treating physicians and only then proceed with the dental treatment.
One day we had an older lady come to our Out Patient Department for a tooth extraction. What happened next was interesting. She was a diabetic, and her blood sugar levels were over the roof! Generally, we would just let her know that she needed to get her sugar levels down before we could do anything. But my colleague chose to spend a few more minutes with her. He made her sit on the chair, talked to her and asked her why her levels were high.
Was she not taking her medications? Was she not following diet restrictions? Was there any stress in her life? How many children did she have? Who had she come to the hospital with? Tears started flowing out of her eyes as she shared her story of family tensions and stresses, of forced fasting and physical labour, of missing her deceased husband and worrying for her grandchildren.
I stood there completely amazed at how my colleague had transformed a simple dental appointment into a counselling session. I was also amazed at how he could have such a personal conversation with a stranger who was not even his patient at that point in time! He didn’t have to have this conversation. It was not part of his job, but he cared enough to make time and ask the right questions.
It is easier to have such personal conversations in a doctor-patient relationship, but I have come to believe that it is not difficult to do this with strangers too, whether on the metro, on the bus, in waiting halls, standing in queues and maybe even over the telephone. We just need to care – care enough to ask and wise enough to ask the right questions.
We have the best example of caring for strangers in our Lord Jesus Christ. He cared for people He did not know and He chose to interact with almost anyone – on the street, in crowded markets, at mealtimes, at all times! And He asked questions:
Jesus cared for the people around Him and therefore He had the right questions to ask at the right times. When we care for our neighbours and friends, we will have the right questions to ask. Questions that come out of love and care do not seek to gather information about the other person. Right questions are those which seek to make the other person comfortable to share the worries and troubles of their heart.
We hesitate to ask questions because we may not share such a relationship. We hesitate to ask because we do not have the time. We end up not asking because we do not know what to do with their answers. Making time, being willing to engage and being available to help are essential parts of developing a caring relationship.
Luke 24:17 records that Jesus asked the two men on the road to Emmaus, “What are you talking about to each other, as you walk along?” Jesus invited himself into the discussion of two strangers on the road. Some would argue that that was easy for Him because He had something to share; He had the truth to tell. But don’t we all have something to share? Don’t we have a love like an ocean, joy like a fountain, peace like a river to share with everyone?
A friend once told me that he would rather err on the side of being intrusive than ignore my situation while asking about a troubled phase of my life. His question exuded concern and he was willing to invest time to listen. He cared enough to ask! There were no solutions given but the conversation that ensued gave me much peace of mind. We may not be able to help or provide solutions at all times but we can definitely provide a listening ear, a non-judging heart and a non-gossiping mouth.
So, let us be willing to have these conversations, willing to ask the right questions and make ourselves available. May we walk that extra mile, get involved, be available and share the love, joy and peace that Jesus has bestowed on us!