“What is it about medicine that just kills your love for the Lord?” My fellow medical school/Bible school friend M asked me once, early in intern year. We were catching up over her mom’s bibimbap and gomtang and homemade kimchi. She was in her first year of anesthesiology, her husband in his first year of primary care, and I was in emergency. We looked at each other, all life-long Christians who had chosen this path years ago. M and her husband had first connected over their shared faith, I think, just like R and me. But we just laughed at the question. One way or another, our careers were our way of serving God. M and I had shared prayers years ago, had each felt a stubborn kindling call to medicine. It was unmistakable. God sent us here, and so we follow Him. But why does it feel like in the years and years of following Him, that we’re lost sheep, stranded on a yellowing hillock somewhere, while the rest of the herd moves on to greener pastures?
Back when we were in Bible school, M and I (and many of our other classmates who went on to medical school, R, J, P, E, on and on) lived a simpler, cleaner life. Like poppies in a greenhouse, we freed ourselves from all the trappings and traps of life. I eschewed my news addiction. I only looked at texts a few times a day. I turned off my data plan. Wifi once a week. I loved who I was then. When I had a few minutes free, I loved taking a walk around the campus garden, affectionately nicknamed “the jungle”, as there was a winding path through some thickset trees with benches and knee-height rocks to sit on and be alone. I was a person with hobbies. I spent hours on the piano, recorded little parody songs for my friends, dreamt up thoughtful gifts and penned notes to send by snail mail. But mostly I loved spending time with God. I would go on long laps around the campus and just tell Him everything that was going on. Sometimes it was just telling Him about random cool stuff that I noticed, like the interesting etymology of a word I looked up in class when I was supposed to be focusing on the speaker. It’s mysterious, but whenever I left those long walks, I felt like my whole being was filled with light and peace.
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that way. For one, I am back to reading way too much news. If back in the day I felt like I was full of light, these days I feel more like a rotting log, with a nest of pillbugs inside. I wake up and often the first thing I do is turn off my alarm, and the next thing I see on the screen are my notifications. Then I start doomscrolling, and already my day is blighted with crude memes, devastating world news, sickly-skinny-beautiful humans hawking clothes-bags-shoes-skincare-nails-hair, and cute drawings of frogs (forgs). By the time I try to quiet my mind and spend some time with God, the light is gone.
Then I’m at work, and I agree with M. Something about it just kills my love for God. There’s always the next thing to do. Task task task, busy busy busy, my bladder is screaming, when that’s fixed my stomach is sad, but no time to eat because your pager is beeping because your nurse wants you to enter a communication order for something they already know that they have to do and have been doing for a whole week so what’s the point of writing an order to communicate to them something they already know??? and now your shoes are wet but WHY? And most of the time (while inpatient), my coworkers are burnt out, my superiors are burnt out, the nurses are stressed, the patients are hangry, and then I go home.
Over the winter holidays, I worked in the surgical ICU. 12 hour days at minimum, and 24 hour shifts on the weekends. When I got home, I caught a few messages of the semiannual conference of the church, which was about Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. The conference is held at the campus of my Bible school, and even seeing it on the livestream at home in acai-bowl-stained scrubs, I felt a stirring of who I used to be. The speakers at the conferences are the same speakers I spent two golden years with when I was 20. Their call to action was no less strong, no less compelling than it used to be. I was moved to bring what I heard back to God. But every time I did, I felt a little catch, a speed bump. I could give myself to God again, but something rancid and curly in me would turn and look back at my lackluster growth since I left the greenhouse. Like feeling the space of a missing tooth, I felt like I was compulsively searching for the person I used to be. But one morning the light shone. I think part of my nostalgia was not just for a simpler life, not just to love God and serve Him more. Part of it was just the part of me that wanted to feel holy and good, but in a way that had nothing to do with God. Just in a way that made me feel special, or better. What a trap, huh? I had wasted all this time, not praying to God, but praying emptily towards some strange idol of what I used to do, how I used to feel. The truth is, there is no way to go back in time. Every day I’m choosing who I’m becoming, and things done can’t be undone, but the present is full of undone things. I don’t think God wants me to keep looking into the past and missing His face.
I’m writing this on my last night of 5 in the ICU. Nights are quiet. They’re easy. When someone is sick, you do cool stuff. When no one is sick, you lie around and play the NYT crossword. But the last few nights when I just can’t stand sitting around doing nothing anymore, I took laps around the 7th floor and looked out the windows at the sleeping, glimmering city. And I talked to God. It couldn’t be more different from the lush greenery of the Bible school campus. It’s aseptic. The silence is deep. Through the windows I can see a few hunched forms of people sleeping in the waiting room. But I feel the inner light returning with each slow lap. Maybe I’ll never be who I used to be again. But I’m becoming.
The first time I made coffee for just myself / I made too much of it / not being used to being the only person there