With 2014 here, just like everybody else I ask myself about New Year resolutions. What am I going to accomplish this year? What is going to change? If you’re like me, you know the thought progression. It’s inspiring in its infantile stage, but soon after it becomes a task, laborious and tedious. As I began to reflect on the whole process, I began to realize that I was neglecting a deeper question. After all, our culture defines us by our external achievements and attributes – it is of course natural for me to consider resolutions from this angle. But the real question I need to consider is, who am I?
Maybe that sounds dramatic, but on closer examination I think the question makes sense. Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount tells us that diseased trees bear bad fruit and healthy trees bear good fruit (Mt 7:17-19). Trees can only bear fruit that is consistent with their nature; diseased trees can’t bear good fruit. We are the same way. If I am unhealthy, I can't really produce good fruit. If I am a follower of Christ and I abide in the true vine, fruit will follow (Jn 15:1-11). How much simpler would it be to have my very being changed to see external growth instead of simply trying to fabricate change! I need to abide in Jesus so I can be a healthy branch.
This brings me to medicine and the identity challenges that come with it. What is our life source? What are we plugged in to? Are we first and foremost doctors and then Christians, or vice versa?
This question is so important is because the fruit we bear is related to what we trust in and dwell in. If my primary identity is physician, my goals will be drawn from that. I will not be a healthy tree because I am not abiding in the source of life Himself; I will abide in medicine. I will fellowship with other believers when it does not conflict with my work schedule. Church life will be dispensable and nurturing my family in the faith will be secondary. Of course in reality things may not be so black and white, but general trends would likely be telling. Physicians are particularly vulnerable to this type of idolatry simply because of the nature of the job. And what is at stake is being a branch that is alive at all. If I find my ultimate hope in medicine, I will die, and consequently I will be cut off (Jn 15:2, 6).
On the other hand, when we are abiding in Christ, we naturally produce love for Jesus and others that will affect all our patients and colleagues. We will be salt and light (Mt 5:13-16). Our Christianity will not be an isolated component of our practice. Rather, the love of Christ will pervade our practice, driving us to care better for our patients and to be good physicians following the ultimate physician. We will not look back and lament the years we have spent only on trying to build ourselves or on the tolls that medicine have had on our family and social lives. With confidence we will see how in attending to the physical and mental health of others we have also aided in their spiritual health. And that impact goes into eternity.
If we want to consider this year how to be better physicians, better colleagues, and better family members, we must build our identity on the rock that can support them all, Christ. We cannot think to ourselves we must just try harder or do this or that better. We must consider the core issue of where our nourishment comes from, and if we find it is medicine, let us be concerned. It will not ultimately satisfy, it will not ultimately keep us healthy, and it will lead to being cut off. May we simply abide in the true vine and see the organic consequence of fruit bearing in our lives.