On the Side - September 2015
Endure, Enjoy, Press On
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God? (Psalm 42:2, ESV)
When my kids were younger, we endured (and I do mean endured) a lot of road trips between Virginia, where we lived, and Illinois or Florida, where our families lived. A little later, our road trips took place between Minnesota and Illinois. We put a lot of miles on our lavender minivan in those days, so Tim and I heard the proverbial “Are we there yet?” from the back seat more times than I can count.
Now that our kids are older, they’ve gotten a little more sophisticated about how they pose the same question. The answer to “Are we there yet?” is more obvious to teenagers than it is to toddlers, so, instead, our kids now more prudently ask, “How much longer?” Often, my 18-year old doesn’t even direct his inquiry to us; rather, he consults Siri, who consistently provides him with a reliable and pleasant response, no matter how many times she has to answer the same question. Regardless of how the question is posed or who (or what) provides the answer, the desire underlying the question is the same: our kids want to get to where they are going as soon as possible.
The truth is, you might guess, Tim and I are not much for the journey, either. We are all about the destination. Cross the state line, get through the construction, hurry at the gas station, endure the journey: that’s how we travel. My husband is very definitively a Type A, and, admittedly, my saying so is just the pot calling the kettle black, for few have ever accused me of being laid back.
Such a temperament sort of goes with the territory, doesn’t it? Even if a Type B were to find him/herself in medicine, the medical life does not necessarily foster an attitude of enjoying the journey, for either the medical professional or his spouse. On one hand, there is school, a board exam, residency, q3 call, and yet a few more board exams for the physician-in-training. Too often, medical practice seems to be more of the same. On the other hand, there is the rest of life, which, for most of us who married into medicine, includes a busy amalgamation of career or community involvement, house, and (pseudo-)single parenting. I’ll never forget the lonely day my mother-in-law left our Charlottesville home after spending two weeks helping me with our toddler and a newborn daughter, who was born just a few months after we’d moved to Virginia. Tim hadn’t been home from the hospital for a couple of days, and, in spite of my best postpartum efforts to keep it together, I sat in my kitchen and wept as my mother-in-law pulled away. The journey of medical training is not easy: it is one to be endured, not enjoyed, right?
There is much about medical training––and, of course, life generally––to endure, yet, to desire to reach a goal is, in fact, quite a normal and even admirable inclination. To long for something more, something else, or something different is to be human. C.S. Lewis encouragingly suggests that “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists”1. Perhaps we instinctively know this, so we strive for more or different or better all the time, yet we must remind ourselves that earthly goods or achievements––even making it through medical training––grant only temporary satisfaction. This is not to say that the end of a challenging phase of life is not cause for much rejoicing, but it is to say that even that which we most want in this world comes with limited pleasure, for nearly as soon as a milestone is reached, we set new goals to replace the old ones. The first half of my 22 years of marriage were spent in medical training, but you can be sure that Tim and I were not cured of our Type A tendencies upon his first day of medical practice. Instead, we immediately set out on the new phase of our life with new goals. Many of our personal goals have likely looked the same as your own life objectives: pay off debt, buy a “forever” home, get another degree, raise healthy kids, do some good in the world, and more. These are good goals, right? Even admirable?
Good goals they may be, but, again, the achievement of them can never really gratify. Lewis helps us understand why this is so when he explains that material goods or personal achievements “were never meant to satisfy” our deepest desires; these can only “arouse” such desire and “suggest” the existence of that which ultimately does satisfy1. Put another way, milestones along life’s journey only give us a taste of the satisfaction for which we were made: communion with Christ and completion in Him. “My soul thirsts for God,” the psalmist declares, and “deep cries out to deep” when we read his words, because we know this is true (Psalm 42: 2, 7, ESV).
Given this reality, we may endure the journey of medical training, toddler tantrums, teenage tears, or whatever stage of life we are in with our eyes fixed on the horizon of eternity rather than on the milestones that mark the path. Let those milestones bring rejoicing––yes––but never “mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.” Meanwhile, in the midst of enduring difficult events or phases in life, we must, along with Lewis, determine to “. . . keep alive in [ourselves] the desire for [our] true country, which [we] shall not find till after death; [we] must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; [we] must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same”1.
As I recall the lonely, postpartum moment in my Charlottesville kitchen, I cannot help but fondly remember those who helped me to press on. My rest-stop-of-choice during that phase of my life was the home of my favorite CMDA staff member and his wife; you might say they were my “Siri,” for they patiently answered my “How much longer?” inquiries more times than they can probably count, and they quite reliably enabled me to enjoy the journey. Most days, I was also surrounded by other dear friends, most of whom were also medical spouses. We all had baby girls that first year, and while we endured the phase of medical training and toddlers together, we certainly enjoyed it, as well. Next year, in fact, five of us, along with our daughters, plan to congregate to celebrate the girls’ sweet sixteenth birthdays. Now, we have the advantage of looking back at milestones and marveling at how quickly the years have come and gone. We will glory in accomplishments and give thanks for our girls. Above all, we will rejoice in the goodness of God and fix our eyes on our shared, eternal horizon, reminding one another––and our daughters––to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” In doing so, we may “hold true to what we have attained” (Philip. 3:14,16, ESV).
As you journey, dear ladies, may you hold true, as well. Endure the challenges, though they may be many; enjoy the journey, which is best done in the company of others; and, by all means, press on toward your prize, toward the Savior who is with you now.
In this way, sisters, you are already right where you are going to be.
Robin and her husband, Tim, a neuroradiologist, live in Rochester, MN with their three children: Gabe, Ella, and Sophie. By the time you read this, Robin will have moved her son to college. She reports that while transitioning a child to college is a milestone to which she once looked forward with much anticipation, she now regrets setting such a goal and longs for the little boy who used to ask her, “Are we there yet?” Nonetheless, pray with her that Gabe presses on!
1Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: Collier/MacMillan, 1952, 20.