It's odd at times how a particular theme emerges in different places at the same time. For me, this new year is one of expectancy. It is pregnant with change. Our daughter has started her last semester of high school and expects to graduate this spring. In the fall she plans to leave for college, and we will have an empty nest. For the first time in thirty-six years, I will not be actively mothering a child in my home! How will I do that? What am I to do with myself? I will miss her so very much.
I work in a field where I help people deal with change. Too much change in someone's life, too much stress, and he is likely to become ill. That illness might be depression or cancer or something else, but stress weakens a body's immunity. There is treatment for depression, and it might include medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, and other things. It won't work, however, if the patient refuses to use the tools and the treatment that she is given.
I visited with such a woman only recently. She is desperate to be rid of her pain and to change her circumstances in life, but she is not desperate enough to do what is necessary to get better. She won't use much of the counsel she has been given, is inconsistent with attending therapy sessions, and only half-heartedly takes her medication. She's not made the lifestyle and diet changes that have been recommended to her. Additionally, she refuses to let go of the past and remove herself from destructive relationships in her current life. She languishes in lethargy and is stuck in the mire that is partly of her own making. Only by using the tools that have been given to her and by letting go will she be able to take hold of healing and the future that God has in store for her.
I felt frustrated myself as I came home after work that day and prepared to travel to a meeting where I would be helping to develop educational materials for physicians. What would it take to be able to get this patient, and others like her, to see her situation differently, to see it from God's perspective? How could I persuade her to lay down her burden, to empty her pockets of the bitterness and insecurities that are weighing her down, and to open her arms to receive the lifeline that God is offering her? I didn't have a good answer for myself, and, having decided that a good shake or a whack upside the head was not a compassionate option for a Psychiatrist, I talked instead to my husband and to my God, Who is, after all, the Great Healer and Changer of hearts. I was able to let it go for a few days and to get ready for my weekend travel.
Developing a new educational module for physicians involves exhaustive review of the scientific literature on the topic, a collaborative meeting of the panel designing the module, and composition and review of the content. As so often happens, I learned several new things from my study of the articles in our review of the subject of physician fatigue. The material intrigued me and dismayed some of the others at our meeting., as much will have to be done before the culture of medicine changes to address the problem of fatigue in health-care workers.
You may not be aware that physicians in training have very strenuous schedules and have historically stayed up every other or every third night to be "on call" in the hospitals where they work. For me, at Baylor Hospital twenty years ago, call was every third night. That meant working thirty-six hours at a time, with twelve hours off after that shift, another twelve on and twelve off, then a repeat of the thirty-six hour shift. It was exhausting for me and difficult for both me and my family. It was after that internship year that my husband left, and I became the single parent of three children.
Because of the high incidence of medical errors, the high rate of motor vehicle fatalities, and the risk of injury to themselves and to patients after physicians have worked extended shifts, guidelines have been put into place that now limit the amount of time that resident physicians may continually be on duty. However, no such limits exist for physicians already out of training and in practice. They still run the risk of decreased mental alertness, more medical errors, and worsening health problems if they practice in a constant state of fatigue.
What I learned in my research is that those who work the night shift are not just sleep-deprived and fatigued. They also suffer an increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and even miscarriage. The artificial light at night affects the human system in such a way that it suppresses melatonin production, increases cortisol, and even suppresses the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin. Thus, those who work night shifts are fatter, sicker, and more stressed than those who work the day shift! I had always wondered why so many of the employees in the hospital in the middle of the night were obese and had erroneously assumed that perhaps they chose the night shift to hide from the world. Now I know that working during the night, when our normal circadian rhythm tells us we should be asleep, contributes to weight gain and subsequent health problems! I wonder what effect the dissemination of this research information will have on those who work night shifts and develop health problems. Will they take the initiative to use the information as motivation for change, choose to work a day-shift, and improve their health?
I also wonder how many of us keep trying to work during the night instead of in the light of day spiritually? Could we be spiritually sick because of it? I think so.
After my meeting with the physicians, I boarded a plane for Houston where I met my married daughter and attended a conference taught by Beth Moore over the weekend. The meeting was for those who had participated in Bible memory over the last year as part of a group called "Siestas". Beth spoke from 2 John and talked to us about how we may lose what we have worked for. She cited 2 John 8, which reads,
"Watch yourselves, that you might not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward."
Beth explained that the way to get back, or to prevent losing, ground in our Christian life is to walk in the light we are given by God and to abide in His presence. 2 John 6 states, "And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it." Beth emphasized that "walk" here means " to abide". Abiding, however, is not just standing still. Neither is it moving backward or running ahead, says Beth. We are not to live in the past and hold onto it or to rush impulsively ahead of God. Instead, we are to walk with Him.
"And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left." Isaiah 30:21 ESV
Strangely, though I know with God there are no coincidences, some of the scripture I learned this year for Siesta Scripture Memory were about walking with the Lord. For me, I take these verses to be about both my physical dependence on God to guide me, because of my vision problem, and also about my spiritual journey with Him.
"For Thou dost light my lamp;
the Lord my God illuminates my darkness.
For by Thee I can run upon a troop,
and by my God, I can leap over a wall.
As for God, His way is blameless;
The word of the Lord is tried;
He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.
For Who is God, but the Lord?
And Who is a Rock, except our God?
The God Who girds me with strength
and makes my way blameless,
He makes my feet like hinds' feet,
and sets me upon high places.
He trains my hands for battle,
so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
Thou hast also given me the shield of Thy salvation,
and Thy right hand upholds me,
and Thy gentleness makes me great.
Thou dost enlarge my steps under me,
and my feet have not slipped."
That word was affirmed to me this morning as I listened to our guest preacher, Jim Dennison, speak about living the Spirit-filled life. He spoke of Ephesians 5:18, which commands us to be filled with the Spirit, and also about Pentecost, as described in Acts, where those present saw the magnificent power of the Holy Spirit, and thousands came to know Jesus. Jim noted that to be filled with the Spirit of God, we must receive Him in salvation, daily depend on God's guidance and strength, be cleansed from anything that hinders the Spirit, and continually ask God to control and empower us. He also pointed out that our relationship with God is our everything, not just a hobby.
Even our Bible study class this morning impressed upon me the message that God was telling me through the commonality of my week's experiences. Our study was from 1 Samuel 1 where the story of Hannah, one of Elkanah's two wives, is told. Although Hannah was loved, she had no children, while the other wife Peninnah had several children and "provoked" Hannah until she wept. "So it was year after year, when Hannah went up to the Lord's house, Peninnah provoked her; so she wept and did not eat." (v 7, AMP) Her husband set aside double portions of meat for Hannah, yet she would not eat. He asked her why she was weeping, why she didn't eat, and why she was downhearted. 1 Samuel 1:10 states, "In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord." Verse 12 tells us that she "kept on praying", and, in her prayers, she promised God that if she conceived, she would give the child to Him. She was eventually noticed, while praying silently, by Eli, the priest, who initially thought she was drunk. He, however, learned the truth from Hannah's own lips: "I am a woman oppressed in spirit"..."I have poured out my soul before the Lord." (v.15). Eli tells her, "Go in peace; and may the God of Israel grant your petition that you have asked of Him." (v 17) Having laid her burden down, Hannah left, ate, "and her face was no longer sad." (v. 18) The next morning she worshiped the Lord. After she returned home to Ramah, Hannah's prayer was answered, as she became pregnant with Samuel, who went on to become the last judge of Israel and to prepare the way for their first king, Saul.
The story of Hannah reminds me of the patient I saw recently. She too wants something to change in her life. Yet, she is unwilling to let go of her past and release her bitterness. She holds on to relationships that are destructive out of her fear of being alone. Because her heart and hands are already filled with things of no value, there is no room for God to put something else in those places. How can He fill a heart already full of bitterness? How can He put a new, God-given relationship into the hand holding on to an ungodly one?
As a Psychiatrist, I think that Hannah was most likely depressed. She was grieved over not being able to bear children. Her refusal to eat meat may have added to her depression, as the body needs the amino acids in protein in order to manufacture neurotransmitters. Hannah's malnourishment most likely contributed to her infertility as well. It is well-known that those with eating disorders or who are underweight may stop having menstrual periods and ovulating. They become unable to conceive as their bodies are trying to conserve energy for survival. I myself need about fifty to sixty grams of protein daily, as calculated for my body type, and that is equivalent to eight ounces of meat. To get that same amount of protein from beans, I would need to eat five measuring cups full--over a quart! Fortunately, I eat meat regularly, and neither malnutrition nor infertility has been my particular burden. I do, however, feel compassion for those who are not able to bear children of their own.
My compassion for Hannah, however, only goes so far. She is portrayed as a poor, pitiful thing in some of the writings about her--a victim of scorn and verbal abuse from the other, fruitful wife. But, perhaps Hannah became her own victim, as a consequence of some of her choices. Her husband, Elkanah, loved Hannah. He was also a Godly man, who "would go up from his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts in Shiloh.." (v 3) He worried about Hannah and suggested to her that she eat, and Hannah refused. She didn't listen to the counsel of her husband. When he invited her to talk about her problems, his questions went unanswered. Instead, Hannah remained in misery for years. Yet, Hannah finally did eat and drink at Shiloh (the place of worship), prayed to the Lord there, and unburdened her heart to the priest. It was only when she obeyed the wishes of her husband (whom God gave her as protector and counsel), and after she made her request to the Lord and shared her grief with the priest that Hannah got better and was able to bear children.
Yes, "the Lord remembered her" (v. 19), but Hannah also remembered the Lord. After years of bitterness and weeping, she decided to submit to the wish of her husband and to eat. She decided to go to Shiloh and worship God, in spite of her circumstances. And, she not only prayed to God, she "continued praying". She was finally able to leave her bitterness at the temple and accept the peace Eli pronounced to her. He made her no promises, yet she left the temple with "her face no longer sad." She was healed, spiritually and physically, when she let go of what was hindering her.
What do we need to let go of? As discovered in our research for the educational module, some of our physicians and hospitals are holding on to the old way of training physicians. They want to keep the residents and interns on duty for extended periods of time in spite of the evidence that such practices are potentially dangerous to both the physicians and their patients. The doctors in established practices want to continue their custom of taking call for an entire weekend and then presenting for work on Monday in a state of fatigue, when all the evidence points to a need to change the old ways. Even choosing not to work a night shift, and, instead, working during the daytime could help some health-care workers who have developed the health problems associated with bright light exposure at night. They just have to choose to live their lives differently, to let go of a destructive way of doing things, and to take hold of a more healthful lifestyle.
What, I wonder, do I need to let go of and leave with God? Am I holding on to these last few months of having my daughter at home while dreading the days ahead when she will be gone? Am I scared of not having her to call on when I need help in the darkness? Yes, I have to admit these feelings. Yet, might I let go of the old role of "active mothering" so that I may take hold of what God has in store for me? Might I live each day in the present, instead of borrowing grief from the future? Am I able to trust God for His help and allow Him to "be a light to me"? (Micah 7:8). I believe He will help me to do just that.
Though I will miss my daughter terribly, I am anticipating the freedom this fall of going out any night of the week that I choose--even on a school night. What a concept! We might even decide, on the spur of the moment, to go away for the weekend, and we won't need to think of who will watch the kids! Maybe we will take up ballroom dancing again., or bird-watching, or skydiving! Who knows?
I think I know the answer to that, and I need to trust Him--to walk on with Him through this year and the next. Like Hannah after she let go of her bitterness and put her future in God's hands, the year is pregnant with possibilities, holding the promise of change. I am looking forward now to God's special delivery.