taking things personally.
Goodbye, Defensive Stephanie.
- Cadet Prayer, West Point Academy (via musicolate)
Me: “Find everything today?”
(Note: she is silent through the transaction, which includes a gift card.)
Me: “How much would you like on this?”
Customer: “Oh, sorry. Can I have $150?”
Me: “No problem.”
Customer: *after paying* “Can you do me a favor?” *she hands me the gift card* “The next customer you see that you think could use this, could you give it to them?”
Me: *stunned* “…Of course!”(After a minute another customer comes up, a visibly upset young woman.)
Me: “Hi! How are you?”
Customer #2: “I’m okay, thanks.”
(Clearly she is not ok, but she is trying very hard to be pleasant. She is getting very basic items: milk, bread, eggs, etc. Nothing very festive.)
Me: “So your total comes out to $0.00.”
Me: “The person before you gave me a $150 gift card to use for the next person I thought could use it. You look like you’re having a rough day, so here are your groceries, and there’s about $130 left on this card.”(The customer just started crying. Once she could, she thanked me about 100 times. Made my whole Christmas season.)
Thanks for the fascinating question/slow pitch over the plate, In Your Faith. I’ve written a couple of posts about my faith and spiritual beliefs before, specifically discussing how I kept my Christian faith alive during med school, and how I reconcile the “opposing” viewpoints of faith and science on the existence of God. So I’ll let you read those posts for some of my answers — but let me address your “unique” questions here:
(Warning: Long, autobiographical, and mainly non-medical post ahead!)
—How my faith started—
I grew up in a conservative (but not ULTRA-conservative) Christian home, the son of a minister in a Protestant religion. I wasn’t one of those kids who “quit going to church because it was forced down my throat” — I kept going all through my teen years, but it seemed to lose a lot of its attraction and application to my life until I was in college. I think the greatest motivator to help you re-examine what you believe is to be placed into a situation of great stress, and for me that stressful place was college: away from home for the first time, few friends, and quickly realizing that I was clueless about dating The Womens.
A couple rocky relationships/breakups and eye-opening classes later, I was having trouble reconciling my childhood view of God with the realities of life on this Earth (full of sadness, pain, and unanswered questions). Thankfully, the college I attended had a terrific on-campus church with an excellent pastor, and the pastor held a 6-week long revival during my sophomore year which really helped me re-examine my relationship with God. That, plus a couple of summers spent working at a Christian summer camp, really helped me refine my Christianity into something that was applicable to my real life, not just a list of do’s and don’t’s passed down from prior generations. (And as I’ve mentioned before, medical school/residency was yet-another Refiner’s Fire for my Christianity). And as my understanding of God’s Big Picture developed, I was able to reconcile my real-life experiences with my beliefs about God, salvation, sin, and the purpose of my existence…
—What I Believe—
I believe in an all-knowing all-powerful God who created this world as one of many, purely out of a desire to have intelligent beings with whom to share His love. I believe God also created moral law, not as a way to “find excuses to punish us” but as a way to define the optimal loving interactions between God and humanity, and between humans. I believe this world has fallen away from God’s intended plan, by using our free will to choose Sin and instant gratification instead of God and eternal life. I believe that our world is “Exhibit A” in a galactic courtroom, where God and Satan argue over the true nature of God’s love and law before a jury of unfallen beings, and where God intentionally restricts His power to allow Satan’s deceptions to proceed to their inevitable failing end.
I believe God’s reason for allowing this world to undergo millenia of sin, sorrow, and pain is to allow the watching universe to see, once and for all, the falsity of Satan’s claims that “It’s possible to be truly happy without obeying God’s laws, and the only reason God created laws is to force you into obeying Him” — so that, when Satan is finally destroyed (by his own persistence in refusing God’s Love and disobeying His law), the rest of God’s intelligent creation will never again choose to step away from God’s loving law. The entire story of Earth and its long sad detour away from God’s law will serve as a powerful warning and example for the rest of eternity.
And the story of Jesus’ life and death provides the greatest proof of God’s Love for us: sending His only Son to live with us and die in our place, a sinless Man who paid the inevitable penalty for humanity’s disobedience of God’s law. In this way, God fulfilled the requirements of His own law, mercifully providing a substitute while preserving our freedom to choose whether to accept this gift. I believe that, if I choose to accept that gift, then it is only natural for me to show my appreciation by obeying God’s law to the best of my understanding, as laid out in the Bible for me to learn.
—How my faith has affected me during training/career—
Well, first of all, my faith and belief in a God who loves me, even when I am at my worst, gives me motivation to try to help (and even love?) my patients, despite their frequent shortcomings. My faith helped me develop a “Big Picture” during my medical training — all the long nights, rude patients and attendings, brutal exams, and other stressors became just “another opportunity for God to work on me and through me”. My self-esteem is not based on my grades, my car, my class standing, my popularity, my house, or my looks — it is based upon the fact that God loves me not matter what, and so I can put all those worries aside and instead focus on showing His love to others.
Ok, that post may have raised more questions than it answered? It’s always hard to write a post like this without sounding “preachy” or “evangelical”. Hope it answered your question, or at least provided a little inspiration for you, In Your Faith. :)
***Pending Cranquis-Mails: 2; Ask Box: Closed for just a bit longer — Cranquis is probably already packing for his return flight home. Hmm, how much French cheese and bread can I fit into my suitcase?***
Howdy, Busy Believer! Excellent question, and I’m glad you’re thinking about this NOW before the schedule-overload of med school starts to smack you down.
I’ll address your question in a moment, but first, let’s go a bit “meta” with this topic: Why should you bother to “keep your faith strong” in the first place? After all, medicine and science don’t have room for such outdated and quaint habits such as “faith” and “spirituality” and “moral rectitude,” right? So many doctors and other healthcare professionals don’t claim any spiritual beliefs, so why should you?
- Many of our patients want their doctors to acknowledge the patient’s spiritual beliefs and backgrounds as a powerful source of support and consolation, even if we don’t believe in God ourselves. (reference 1, reference 2)
- “Spirituality” is not the same as “religion”. You and I both know plenty of people who claim to belong to a “religion” but who do not behave in a way which indicates any inner change from those religious beliefs. Spirituality (the internalization and subsequent externalization of a personal journey to understand one’s place in the Grand Scheme of Things), can make you a better doctor in areas that are sorely needed: improved empathy, better communication, ease in forging a true patient-physician relationship amidst the time/money-crunch of modern healthcare, and more capable of appreciating a patient’s own spiritual beliefs and support-system even when it differs from ours. (reference)
- Science and faith can co-exist. In fact, as I’ve discussed before, science and faith are not like “matter” and “anti-matter” — they do not automatically negate each other’s power and presence. You can be a doctor who navigates the Currents of Faith which flow through the Ocean of Science, and which help to keep you going when storms of illness, fatigue, and self-doubt overwhelm you, or when Science crashes up against the seashore limits of its understanding. (Yeesh, that turned kinda poetic there, sorry!) :)
Ok, so on to your original question: How did I keep my faith strong without flunking out of med school?
- Prioritizing my relationship with God above everything else. I guess you could say that med school was, in itself, an excellent test of my faith, while simultaneously it was my test of God’s faithfulness to me. I had opportunity after opportunity to “skimp” on my spirituality in order to cram in more study-time — but I tried (and often succeeded) to sacrifice enough time every day to tend to my spiritual well-being (personal devotions, prayer). And I feel that God rewarded my time-sacrifices by helping me maximize my study sessions and improve my mental recall during tests. I can proudly state that I never studied for med school during Sabbath hours, even if I was on-call or before an exam week — yet I never had to re-take a test or a class, and I got into the residency and job of my choice.
- Creating an atmosphere conducive to spiritual growth. I chose to attend a medical school that had a Christian background, so I knew I’d have greater opportunity and support for exercising my spiritual muscles. I tried to form social connections with people who also seemed interested in doing more than just “becoming a doctor”. I picked a girlfriend (the future Mrs. Cranquis) who was also spiritual and who shared my basic Christian beliefs. I lived in an apartment rather than in a dorm, giving myself some space from the inevitable “party” atmosphere which often detracts from spiritual pursuits.
- Keeping it real. No matter how extroverted you may be, you’re going to be a hermit for long portions of time during med school. But that doesn’t mean that your spiritual life has to be tucked away in a cave too! I attended a church close to the campus, attended vespers or chapel programs whenever my scheduled allowed, and went on weekend retreats or local camping/hiking expeditions with similarly-minded people. And as soon as possible, I started participating in outreach projects (like music ministries in the hospitals or helping out at local clinics for underprivileged people), to put some action into my beliefs. All these things helped me remember that there was a Greater Purpose for why I was enduring med school, and helped counter the stress and depression which constantly nags at every med student.
- Preparing for the Big Show. By this, I’m referring to what you’re doing now — taking time from your comparatively-easier college schedule to build the habits and skills which you can modify and use to keep your spirituality alive during the Time Crunch schedule of med school. Just as you would prepare for a marathon or an athletic competition by doing daily exercise and workouts, you can prepare yourself spiritually for the stress of med school by learning and maintaining small daily “spiritual workout” habits. The time to learn those habits is NOW!
I hope my experiences help you develop your own approach, Busy Believer. Good luck, and God bless! :)
***Pending Cranquis-Mails: The Big Zero! Woot!***