My Comforter, My All In All
March 24, 2022
by Amy Givler, MD
Blankets and quilts are nice, but for cozy wonderfulness on a chilly winter night, give me a comforter every time. A comforter is an old word, but it refers to a particular piece of bedding. Big and puffy, comforters have soft fabric on both sides of a fluffy interior. In addition to warmth, comforters provide…well…comfort.
Webster’s Dictionary describes the several shades of meaning of comfort:
- A feeling of relief or encouragement
- Consolation in times of trouble or worry
- Contented well-being
After two years of living in a worldwide pandemic, everyone I know needs comfort in every way Webster defines it.
It’s odd the word “comforter” can apply to a bedcover as well as to a person. The ultimate Comforter, the Holy Spirit, was sent by Jesus after He physically left the earth. Some words in the Bible are hard to translate, and the word “Comforter” in John 14:16 is one of them. The clue that this is the case is how the Amplified Version lists all the possible ways to translate the word:
“And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, and Standby) that He may remain with you forever” (AMP).
The point is that the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity, comforts us in every possible way because this quality is intrinsic to who He is. Comfort defines Him.
And we who are following Jesus are to be little reflections of the Holy Spirit as we come alongside and provide comfort to those who need it. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, ESV). We can comfort others because we have received comfort ourselves. What an affirmation it would be if our friends, family and patients would say, with Paul, “…I have derived much joy and comfort from your love” (Philemon 1:7a, ESV).
As a family physician, I have been privileged to be able to walk alongside patients in their suffering—providing medical care, yes, but sometimes the best thing I have to offer is comfort. If the suffering is not so much physical as it is emotional or spiritual, comfort may be what they need the most.
Sometimes my comfort consists of just “being there.”
The biblical Job lost everything in a catastrophically short period of time—children, possessions, health. His friends came to him to comfort him in his misery. For one week they succeeded splendidly. The secret to their success was keeping their mouths shut. On day eight, when they opened those mouths, they became “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2) because they blamed Job’s suffering on his sin. They were wrong, and Job’s anguish increased.
Caring for my patients, I want to be very careful about what I say to those who are suffering. That is, I want to be a “first week” friend.
And let us not forget that the patient sitting before us is not the only one suffering. He or she has family and friends who are suffering by extension. When their loved one hurts, they hurt.
Last week a patient’s daughter came with her mother, my long-time patient who has been battling metastatic cancer for 18 months. Newly arrived from the other side of the country to help her parents, she wanted more aggressive treatment for her mother, and she was arranging for her to transfer to another oncologist in a different institution than mine. She wanted me to agree with her that what had been done so far had been inadequate, but I couldn’t agree. It seemed to me her mother had received excellent care with our oncologists.
She was angry, and she was directing that anger at me. She didn’t quite accuse me of malpractice, but it was close. I felt myself getting defensive and angry. Then I looked at her mom, whose expression was serene and loving. I know I’m not supposed to have favorite patients (so don’t tell anyone), but she definitely fits the bill. Always positive, always friendly, always outward-focused, and her appointments over the years have been bright spots in my clinic days.
Of course, her daughter loves her more than I do. Of course, her daughter fears losing her mother. Of course, her daughter must be hurting.
I was filled with compassion. My focus shifted from defending myself and my medical institution to: “How can I spread a balm on her pain? How could I be a comforter?” I asked her how she was doing, and listened for her answer, and subtly the tone of the visit shifted. She acknowledged how hard it was to see her mother decline. She was still angry when she left, but maybe—maybe—a little less, and praise God I hadn’t added to her pain with angry words of my own.
Early in Jesus’ three years of earthly ministry, He returned to the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth and read most of the first two verses of Isaiah 61 and said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21b, ESV). In other words, Isaiah 61 was a prophecy about Him.
And what does Isaiah 61 say? That the Lord has anointed Him:
- To bring good news to the poor
- To bind up the brokenhearted
- To proclaim liberty to the captives
- To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
- To comfort all who mourn
To comfort all who mourn (emphasis mine). Jesus came to earth to comfort weak, suffering humans. That includes me. That includes my patients. That includes all of us.
The comfort of Jesus is better than the softest, fluffiest, warmest comforter on a frosty evening. There’s no greater comforter than Jesus. As Stuart Townend’s lyrics from “In Christ Alone” state:
“In Christ alone my hope is found.
He is my light, my strength, my song….
“My Comforter, my All in All,
Here in the love of Christ I stand.”