WPC Pulse - July 2015
Where Do You Find Your Strength?
by Leslie Walker, MD
Most women physicians have trained under a model of medical authority that emphasizes experience, knowledge and position. At the most basic, we learned the maxim, “See one, do one, teach one,” which trivializes the amount of practice we need to master medical skills, but does reinforce the idea that medical training is not just about what we do to patients but also about helping the next generation of healthcare professionals. During my training, “Strong work!” was the highest praise for a good “catch” on a history or physical, or for going above and beyond to complete difficult tasks. We learned that strength came from outward actions, especially when we were overcoming sleep deprivation, illness or hunger to do the (more important) medical work required.
Where do you find YOUR strength? Recently, I was convicted while reading Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith’s devotional book Come Empty: Pour Out Life’s Hurts and Receive God’s Healing Love. One of her studies quoted Isaiah 30 and, as I read the old prophet challenging Israel, I was reminded of the contrast between a medical training view and a biblical view of strength.
In Isaiah 30, the Israelites are in big trouble and they know it, but they don’t want to admit it. They try forming alliances with countries that aren’t really allies. They decide to flee. They try to make their own plans for self-preservation. And they ask their prophets, “Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions...stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” (Isaiah 30:10b-11, NIV 2011).
But all the while, “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it’” (Isaiah 30:15, NIV 2011).
What I realized as I prayed and journaled was that those four nouns are actually actions I can choose to do, or not. Each points me to God’s power and sovereignty, instead of my own plans or abilities.
Repentance is first. The Israelites wanted to avoid confrontation with the holiness of God. Instead, I can choose to submit, confess and ask for God’s power to change my sinful behavior. Some of you know about my long struggle with the sin of gluttony. I cannot claim that I have mastered this sin, but I have seen God’s power helping me to make good choices and His mercy giving me a new start when I make bad ones. The medical model would say “strong work” because I have maintained my weight loss for almost a year. The biblical model says “strong work” every time I repent for sinful choices and every time I eat in a healthy way and run or get to the gym!
Rest is next. Repenting and changing sinful behavior is exhausting, even though God is fueling the process. He knows our limitations. Rest is an action, a choice to stop, wait, eat and drink, sleep and acknowledge that we aren’t machines and we are not omnipotent. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a, ESV). Rest reminds us that we need breaks. We need to say no to some work and ministry and family opportunities, so that we have time to rest. Imagine an attending who says, “Strong work!” to the resident napping in the call room! Yet God knows that sometimes, that’s exactly what we need.
Quietness is one of the hardest actions for me. I love to talk and network and write and connect. I often have my devotions in a restaurant or coffee shop, which is why I don’t call it a “quiet time,” and I write my prayers in a journal to stay focused and clear. Yet over the last few years, the practice of contemplative prayer, when I spend 10 to 20 minutes in quiet solitude, just focusing on the presence of Jesus with me, has brought me strength. I don’t do it daily, but the action of quietness, of just being in the presence of Christ without a list of requests or a specific task, helps me remember my place in His kingdom.
It’s a paradox: I’m both a miniscule speck in a big church and, at the same time, a unique, cherished and beloved child of God. That gives strength when I feel insecure in my God-given roles as doctor, wife, mom and daughter. Quietness reminds me that He loves me because of who He is, not because of what I say or do.
Finally, trust is the action that lets me move forward when I don’t know what to do. Isaiah 30 says, “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you...How gracious He will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you...Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:18-21, NIV 2011). Then we will get rid of our idols and sins, and God will provide richly for our needs and heal us.
If you aren’t sure what specific action to take in a given situation, start with the areas of your life where God has convicted you. Repent, rest, be quiet and then trust that He will lead you in any situation as you act with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.
If no outward action at work or at home fits one of those fruits of the Spirit, don’t take outward action yet. Ask Him for help. Trust that God is perfectly capable of taking action Himself on your behalf, or on behalf of your patients, family and friends.
Isaiah 30 also reminds me that God sometimes “...gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction...” (Isaiah 30:20, NIV 2011). A frightening or painful period may not reflect my sin or inadequacy, but instead be an opportunity that God has provided for my growth, so that I learn (again) to depend on Him and on His strength instead of my own.
Thankfully, we can look forward to the time “...when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted” (Isaiah 30:26, NIV 2011). Our Great Physician is the true source of our strength. Rest in Him today.