Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Practicing Faith

After med school comes “residency,” that essential part of every young doctor’s career where “head knowledge” meets “street smarts.”  I remember the day well, back in July, 1988:  my first days in the hospital after graduating from medical school.  I remember the painful realization that all the “stuff” I had been cramming into my brain the past 4 years was not yet enough to equip me to be a good doctor.  What first year intern doesn’t dread the “pimp” sessions when the attending physician grills him at the patient’s bedside about all the possible etiologies of the patient’s abdominal pain?  I remember well my first day of medical internship.  It was during “rounds”  the attending physician asked me (in front of about four or five other young doctors),  “Doctor Edmondson," (and the inflection in his voice when he said “Doctor” proclaimed loudly that he really had his doubts), “list for me the possible causes of this patient’s congestive heart failure.”  The ten seconds that followed were the slowest ten seconds of my life.  Time stood still for ten seconds.  Deer in the headlights time.  In an act of mercy, his eyes lifted their gaze from me to the rest of the group, who managed to come up with what he was looking for.  Why didn’t I have all the answer to that question?  I should have known the answer to that question.   His eyes panned back to me and, in a reassuring tone, I remember him telling me, “you’ve got it all up here,” placing his hand over my frontal lobe.  “What we need to do,” he said, “is to get it from here” (frontal lobe), “to here” (moving his clenched fist and placing it over my gut).  What I lacked was the gut.  Not guts.  Gut.  And I learned gradually over the years that it would come.  Head knowledge would transform into gut instinct.  That first preceptor in the clinical phase of my education taught me... not facts so much (I had those, or so he reassured me)... but he taught me how to use those facts to make a difference in my patients’ lives.  He taught me how to process the raw material (head knowledge) into something that would be useful to me as I stood at the side of the bed of a critically ill patient.  The patient, I learned, could care less if I got an A in “pulmonary.”  The patient cared a lot if I could prescribe therapy that would save his life.
“Bible smarts” isn’t enough (ask any Scribe).  Faith in God goes way beyond head knowledge(consult any Sadducee).  And lip service certainly doesn’t cut it (ask any Pharisee).  What a waste it would be for a graduating medical student to hang her shingle on her bedroom wall and never allowed her “head knowledge” be translated into improving the quality of people’s lives.  Similarly, how tragic is it that there are those who have an understanding of the Christian faith and seem to know all the right answers, yet who bear no fruit through the exercising of their faith in ministry to others.  How can we grow in faith if we don’t enter the “patient rooms” of life and allow our Great Preceptor to mentor and mold us into ever-learning, ever-maturing, and ever-reproducing practitioners of our faith?
I want to be an ever-maturing practitioner of my faith.  The moment we stop maturing in our faith, we start stagnating in our faith.  Fruit isn’t borne.  Hot turns to luke-warm.  Zeal gives way to boredom.  Might as well hang the shingle on your bedroom wall. 

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