Dr. Askin is a member of Lutheran Church Canada, as we are, and also, as the article states a "sleep consultant and certified life coach in Calgary, Alberta. He helps christian professionals discover their purpose, live more simply and grow in discipleship. He can be contacted through his website, www.pathlightcoaching.com."
Personally, I have never met Dr. Askin, but was really impressed with this article, the fine theology in it and the resources cited. Read it. Pass it on. Someone might need it. CMDS also maintains a website, but the magazine is not available there in electronic format. However, any Christian practitioners might consider becoming members of their local chapters.
There are many different stresses on different kinds of people. However, maintaining rural medical/dental practice, in our own experience, can be especially challenging. The practitioner becomes responsible for too many things and really needs to learn ways to cope in the best manner for him/herself. This can be vital for his health, his family, his continuing in the practice effectively.
Seeing God at Work
God is hiding - not from us, but in us and the people and situations around us. Our Hidden God (Deus absconditis) reveals Himself where unaided reason would not look for Him – in a manger, on a cross and serving His creation through people performing the routine activities of everyday life, so that even the most mundane task becomes a divine appointment. Jesus’ work on our behalf enables us to participate in God’s purposes, free from self-conscious concern about our status before Him. Our multiple callings as spouses, parents, physicians, dentists, parishioners and citizens are, therefore, “masks of God” by which He reveals His love and care to us and those around us. This is the heart of vocational thinking, a perspective that was re-discovered during the Reformation and that we would do well to reclaim, given the hectic pace and complexity of life in 2009. Lee et al 1 found that 69.2% of family physicians were moderately or highly stressed, which was correlated with a desire to leave practice. If you, too, are feeling disillusioned or overloaded, a vocational perspective might help you to balance your practice and personal life.
In the May 2008 issue of Canadian Family Physician, Jensen et al 2 identified four main aspects of physician resilience: attitudes and perspectives, balance and prioritization, supportive relations and practice management. A vocational perspective can give doctors and dentists a theological basis from which to address the first three of these.
Attitudes and Perspectives pertain to having a sense of contribution, maintaining interest in one’s role, accepting professional demands, and developing self awareness.2 Vocation is God’s initiative - it is not about what we do for God; after all, “God does not need our good works. But our neighbour does” (Gustav Wingren paraphrasing Luther). 3 Wonderfully, though, by serving our neighbour we bring glory to God. Our vocations are unique, based on our individual talents, personality, experience and the needs around us; they are not mysteries to be divined, but can be discerned, as much as is possible for saints who are still sinners, by prayerful reflection upon who we are and where we have been planted. We do not simply choose a vocation but are summoned to it from outside ourselves, often through the vocations of others. The fresh perspective that thinking vocationally gives can rekindle enthusiasm to be fully engaged right where we are or give us a nudge to alter course. With our peace in Christ, we are free to try new things without being paralyzed by fear of making a mistake. “…Our choices [are] themselves part of the overarching design of God” 4 but “...God makes things happen with no violation to human dignity, volition or moral responsibility…” 5
Where have you glimpsed God hiding in your life? How might you use your talents more effectively in the service of others and thereby live with greater passion and authenticity?
Balance and Prioritization involve limit setting, professional development and self care. 2 With clarity about our callings, life becomes simpler as we acknowledge our limitations, prioritize our commitments and then establish healthy boundaries to protect them. We stop trying to “do it all”. By recognizing the scope of our responsibility, we can live more intentionally, discerning which projects to accept and which ones to decline, where to allocate the resources entrusted to us and when to honour our need for rest. In Mark 6:31, Jesus, fully aware of His mission and the needs of the crowds, acknowledged that He and His disciples required rest and departed by boat for a quiet place. When we think vocationally, we are no longer burdened by trying to please everyone. There is enough time in the day to fulfill what God has called us to do, including apparent interruptions. The focus, order and margin that are created free us to face challenges with confidence and to be fully present with those to whom we are ministering. In Mark 5:21-43, we see how Jesus compassionately and unhurriedly addressed interruptions in His daily activities.
We keep weak personal boundaries to assuage guilt, feel needed or side-step conflict. Think of a recent situation when you agreed to something against your better judgment and are now feeling overwhelmed or resentful. What need were you trying to meet? What are two more-constructive ways of meeting that need? What standards will you put in place to establish a firmer boundary so you avoid similar circumstances in the future?
Supportive Relations regards professional and personal support.2 All callings are of equal importance; we are not in competition but our vocations are complementary. Since we no longer fear obscurity, we are not diminished by the achievements of others but can celebrate them. We are spared conceit when praised and self-pity when criticized. Ultimately, we can live with greater authenticity and love others more genuinely.
Who can you bring into your personal and professional spheres whose strengths offset your weaknesses? Who can replenish you emotionally and, in turn, in whom can you invest yourself? 7
Obstacles to Vocational Living 6
There are certain traps into which we can fall that impede our ability to discern and then embrace our callings:
• Making a sacred-secular distinction between vocations, leading us to idealize formal church work. We may envy others or even enter into a role that is not our own or become apologetic about our so-called secular work. Our consequent lack of joy betrays inner discord that will compromise our work with others.
• Identifying our vocation with a specific work situation can set us up for a crisis of identity and to miss opportunity for growth if our role should change or end. “The call out of one’s comfort zone is often abrupt and the last thing one would have considered.” 8
• Failing to recognize, develop and use our gifts. Our Lord expects us to be good stewards of the gifts we have been given and to invest ourselves in the extension of His Kingdom (See Mat. 25:14-30 and 2 Tim 1:6).
• Failing to realistically appreciate our limits can lead to victimization and the blaming of others for our lack of success at one extreme and, at the other extreme, the fallacy that with enough determination and hard work we can do whatever we dream of. We are not all called to do extraordinary things, but God accomplishes great things through ordinary people faithfully living out their lives. We can miss our vocation looking for the remarkable.
• Pursuing power, material security, and prestige. These temptations, faced by Jesus in the desert, are those to which we professionals are, perhaps, particularly vulnerable. We pursue these three to meet deep and legitimate needs when we fail to recognize that they can only be fulfilled in Christ. How often have people chosen a career because of its generous income and benefits? “The unchecked longing for wealth, comfort and security will inevitably threaten our capacity to know and respond fully to our vocation.” 6
• Holding a misguided sense of duty. We fail to abandon a pursuit so that we do not “waste” the time and/or money invested. In God’s economy, nothing is wasted; He brings us to certain places in our lives where we will come to desire what He desires for us in preparation for the next chapter. God will use all the seemingly disparate bits of our lives for our growth and His glory, though we may be unable to discern how He is working all things together.
We must honestly examine our motives for following a certain path and be willing to admit that they may be inconsistent with God’s true call, perhaps like Jonah fleeing his mission to Nineveh. What obstacles are keeping you from becoming all you have been called to be?
To think vocationally requires that, with God’s help, we cultivate our capacity for retrospection: the ability to review our personal stories, appreciate the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, identify our passions, strengths and weaknesses and then prayerfully apply our insights to our current life situation. In so doing, our subsequent actions can be focused and purposeful and our lives more manageable and fulfilling. It is important, though, that we acknowledge that the work we are called to do may be difficult and the progress halting and, perhaps, in an unexpected direction. Nevertheless, Christian maturity is evidenced when we are true to who we have been called to be despite the difficulties, our initial insecurities and the expectations of others because we trust God with the outcome. Delight in this: we are the hands and feet of our Hidden God, manifestations of His love toward a world in need! Open our eyes, Lord, to see You at work.
1. Lee FJ, Stewart M, Brown JB. Stress, burnout and strategies for reducing them. What’s the situation among Canadian family physicians? Can Fam Physician 2008; 54: 234-5.e1-5.
2. Jensen PM, Trollope-Kumar K, Walters H, Everson J. Building physician resilience. Can Fam Physician 2008; 54: 722-9.
3. Wingren, G quoted. In: Veith, Gene Edward. God at Work. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books; 2002. p. 38.
4. Veith, Gene Edward. God at Work. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books; 2002. p. 54.
5. Ensor, John. Two inches of providence stretches into a lifelong smile. Worldmag.com Commentary, May 19, 2009.
6. Smith, Gordon T. Courage and Calling - Embracing Your God-Given Potential. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; 1999, p. 99-111.
7. Elmore, Tim. Habitudes #1 – The Art of Self-Leadership. Atlanta, GA: Growing Leaders, Inc; 2004, p. 33-36.
8. Menuge, Angus. Christian Vocation. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House; 2006; p. 28.