From Bench to Bedside – Connecting the Head and the Heart

For a long time, my husband worked with scientists in translational genomics. A well-known saying in genomic research is “From bench to bedside”. Researchers know that if their findings are confined to the laboratory alone, the research will never affect patients and change their lives. People are often desperate for a treatment that will save a life or offer a better quality of life. If the research just sits on slides and under microscopes its use is severely limited. Thus the phrase “bench to bedside” – from the laboratory bench to the patient’s bedside.The phrase is a reminder of the need to link theory to practice. There is another area,  unrelated to genomic research, that needs a bench to bedside connection – the head and the heart. In times of crisis I have found that there can be a massive disconnect between the two. No one ever wants a crisis. By their very nature, crises are not things you sign up for, plan for, or dream about. But inevitably they do come. Some times of crisis are our own doing, others are not about what we did or didn’t do.  They just happen. The drunk driver who hits an aunt and uncle, sending them into the hospital for weeks; tsunamis and floods; bombs and betrayals can all create a crisis. In my life I have found the problem to be less the crisis and more the head – heart disconnect during a crisis. To be sure a crisis brings about changes of plans, a myriad of details to be taken care of, and sometimes a loss of even the most basic needs. But the reaction to the crisis – there lies the problem and the disconnect. My head knows truth. I know by head some great theological truths that can comfort someone in a crisis. Somewhere in the memory part of my brain are the words:

  • “For I know the plans I have for you”, says the Lord. “Plans to prosper you, not to harm you. To give you hope and a future.”
  • “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of my God, my fortress and my strength. My God in whom I trust.”
  • “For we know that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”

I know by head all these truths, but because of pain that’s where it stops. My memory bank is full, but my heart is empty and surrounded by ice. The words mean nothing and have no way of giving comfort. They are just words. The head and the heart seem to be in different bodies. Added to that is the occasional “Job’s comforter” spouting theology and accusations void of wisdom. There are a couple of things I have noticed about a heart surrounded by ice. First of all – I can’t parent properly. Whether it is a scraped knee from a biking accident or a scraped heart from a prom date, the emotional energy is frozen and can’t be applied where most needed. Second – ice can take a long time to melt. In New England, where we now live, there is evidence every winter of the time it takes to melt ice. Frozen ponds and tree branches, icicles hanging from tall buildings and slick sidewalks are all evidence of the danger of ice and the time it takes to melt. Third, a heart that is frozen assumes that it has a market on pain. No other pain could be so terrible, no other pain so unbearable. Mine is the worst – or so my frozen heart tells me. So what’s the solution to the great head/heart divide? The only way I have found to melt the ice surrounding my heart from the pain that is generated and reconnect the head and the heart is the warmth of the spirit of God. For me to be able to live out the truth that my head knows, my heart has to be melted and rejoined to my head, a grueling and terrible process filled with tears and “whys?” but essential for me to move on. It’s sometimes like surgery with no anesthesia and I want to scream through it. Despite the pain, God is gentle and persistent, coming like a warm wind after a terrible winter, warming everything in its path so that the world can breathe again. The warmth melts the ice and my heart can gradually beat again, seeing life through the lens of hope and faith.

Finally, as if everything had not been felt enough, Jesus cries out in an agonizing moment in the most powerful words that we will read in the world: “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” And I am utterly convinced that the reason he said those words was so that you and I would never have to say them again. – Ravi Zecharias

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