Being back in medical practice has been so wonderful in so many ways, and so difficult in others. I love interacting with patients, caring for those who can no longer care for themselves, and bringing God’s love through the practice of medicine. The paperwork is horrific. I spend far more time doing paperwork than I do seeing patients. My decisions for care get overruled on a daily basis by someone behind a desk somewhere who doesn’t hold any kind of medical degree. And my patients suffer the consequences in front of me. I am the one who sits face-to-face with patients, wrestling through their problems with them.
Medicine has always been meant to be practiced in the context of relationship. For centuries, medicine was one of the primary ministries of the church. We still see remnants of this in our Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Catholic hospitals. It really wasn’t until less than a century ago that the church turned over the ministry of medicine to be practiced as a business. Insurance companies and the government dictate the way we practice, and I feel we’ve lost an important part of the practice of medicine when we’ve removed the context of ministry. I feel the dissonance on a daily basis.
I think our we often practice our faith without the context of relationship as well. Scripture talks about our relationship with God as something we should crave, not consult.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6 NIV
“Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Luke 6:21 NIV
The trouble is that hunger is not a very comfortable situation to be in. I’ve often thought about wanting to hunger and thirst after God as something good, something pleasant. But hunger, by its very nature, is painful. There’s a big difference between a desire and hunger. Hunger goes beyond desire to a physical discomfort of craving. A piece of cinnamon and sugar toast sounds good to me right now. One could even say that I DESIRE to have a piece. But am I hungry? No. No hunger pangs. No stomach rumbling. But if I eat the desired cinnamon and sugar toast, I actually shortcut hunger.
Ken Gire speaks on the subject of spiritual hunger in The Reflective Life. “Because hunger hurts, though, we try to take the edge off it in any way we can. One of those ways is with religious activity. And that can include the activity of reading books, listening to tapes, or going to seminars. Through these things, which are often very good things, even nourishing things, we are fed the experiences of others. But they are not our experiences. I can read a psalm about David crying out from a cave in the wilderness, and I should read that psalm, but it is not my psalm. It is not my psalm because it is not my cave, not my wilderness, and not my tears.”
My pain. My cave. My wilderness. These create a true hunger. There’s no easy substitution for hunger.
In a world of self-sufficiency, my faith can be hampered by shortcutting hunger. Do I snack on the spiritual experiences of others, rather than working through and learning from my own? Probably more often than I’d like to think. In the same way that eating at the first desire for food without true hunger creates overweight people, feeding off of the experiences of others without allowing true hunger for God creates overfed Christians.
How do I create true hunger for righteousness rather than snacking on the experiences of others? Many times I find myself in stages of life in which I tangibly feel the need for God’s healing or provision. In my middle-class North American culture, that’s often not the case.
Nowhere in Scripture does it say, “Blessed are the self-sufficient, for they will not annoy God with their requests,” or “Blessed are those who do not need to depend on God, for God does not love His children.”
I think at times we have to carefully and prayerfully create vacuum of need that only God can fill, by stretching ourselves outside of what is spiritually, physically, or financially comfortable. Maybe by moving into a neighborhood that needs a spiritual light. Perhaps by supporting a ministry financially when we’re not sure how God will provide for our needs. Maybe by engaging in spiritual disciplines, like fasting, that remind us of our hunger for God. Perhaps by attempting something that without God’s help would be a sure failure.
Our faith is best practiced in the context of relationship, and in a culture where self-sufficiency is applauded, sometimes I need to be reminded that it is the hungry, not the spiritual snackers, who will be filled.