By Rockne Dahl, Interim Pastor
“ I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength,” Philippians 4:11–13.
Feeling contented (or satisfied) is a great problem in our day isn’t it? We are told to “love people and use things” but the stress to get ahead persuades many to “use people and love things” instead. Costs keep going up, rents keep going up and wages remain stagnant—if you can get a job and then dodge the waves of layoffs. Life is a rat race and the rats are winning! Who can rest contented or be satisfied with the way things are?
Paul says he learned how to be content in any and all circumstances. He was content even though he was chained to a Roman guard day and night in a cold, damp prison called the Mamertine, which was actually a huge water cistern. We would expect that being a prisoner with a serious threat of execution hanging over his head would have left Paul feeling the opposite of everything the word “contentment” might mean. And how could he possibly be content while cold, hungry, and without benefit of friend or companion? But, some how he had learned the secret of being content in all circumstances. Of course Paul knew that he could do anything through the One who gives us all strength.
In the most recent issue of Scientific American, I read a thrilling article entitled “Is Anybody in There?” The article, written by Adrian Owen who is a cognitive neuroscientist, details the latest successes in communicating with patients who appear to lack consciousness. In recent years improvements in trauma care, roadside care and intensive care has led to more people surviving serious brain damage, alive but with no evidence of preserved awareness. However, Owen and colleagues at Western University in Ontario have found a very difficult but revolutionary way to communicate with patients who are in deep levels of unconsciousness.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging which measures blood flow (and portable EEG units), researchers found that two tasks unconscious patients could perform mentally were playing a game of tennis or walking from room to room in their home. If an unconscious patient is instructed to imagine a game of tennis, brain activity shows up in the premotor cortex. If the patient imagines touring from room to room in their home, brain activity is activated in a deep brain region containing the parietal lobe and the parahippocampal gyrus. If the physician asks a question that the patient wants to give a “yes” to, the patient is asked to play a game of tennis in his imagination. If the researcher wishes to ask a patient a question and the patient wishes to respond with a “no” answer, the patient is instructed to imagine walking from room to room. Remarkably, the first time this technique was tried with a seemingly vegetative female patient, she responded perfectly. The researchers concluded that
although she was unable to respond physically to external inputs, she was in fact, conscious. Patients have been able to answer multiple questions about their lives.
Now for the amazing conclusion to this report: “A 2011 survey of 65 patients with locked-in syndrome—a condition in which consciousness is intact, but the body is paralyzed—suggests that people have a surprising capacity to adapt to extreme disability; most expressed satisfaction with the quality of their lives.” If patients who are completely paralyzed can find satisfaction with their lives, what about you and me?
I suggest that even patients who appear to be deeply unconscious can be aware that caregivers and family care about them and love them. The “unconscious” can hear us even when they cannot respond to our presence and words of love. Hugging the unconscious loved one is not a wasted effort. The conscious need to bask easy in the truth that other people care and love us. We need to know that our community of faith has our back just like Paul knew that the churches were praying for him. If somebody loves you, don’t sweat the small stuff. Even in the deepest darkness or life or consciousness, people can still feel the presence of God and his love.
And good memories help, too. The patients could recall playing tennis and walking around in their homes. Right now this moment may be anything but pleasant. But praise God Jesus gave his life for us. Recall the good old days when you were happy like the lambs out on the hillside. Those days will come again if you are conscious of God’s love, or, even if you are unconscious and only can feel a gentle presence.