The Challenge of Rest
My 2 pm meeting was with a group of other missionary doctors. A few hours prior to the meeting, some of the group members messaged our group. “I can’t make it today,” one said, “I am the only one on the pediatric ward and we have 27 patients.” “I’m in the hospital all day” another said, “I’ll try to call in but I’m not sure how much time I’ll have.” I knew this was a group for supporting each other, for preventing burnout. Yet when I heard their messages, the first thing I could think was, Why am I not too busy for this meeting? How is it that I have time for this? Am I less of a doctor because I am working from home today and not overwhelmed with patients?
It truly had been a whirlwind of a day for me, waking up early to walk with a friend, returning to find our favorite pastor friends had come for a visit. The morning turned into a sequence of one thing after another: a quick teatime in our garden, then printing a workbook to help with women’s health in the village, discussing the progress of the last agriculture trainings, planning for the next trainings, discussing visions for the local church. I was writing reports and checking in on patients and getting ready for what would be another busy evening. At 1:30 I took a break to get ready for the meeting. It should have been a lunch break, but I opted to soak my sore back in the tub, read my Bible, do a quick meditation on Scripture, and wash my hair. I was barely in front of my computer and still munching assorted raw veggies (since I ended up not having time for lunch). It was tight timing, but I had given myself a little margin and made space for this time. I even knew that the discussion topic today was rest and sabbath. Yet I was feeling like less of a doctor, less of a missionary, because I had time for the meeting, and had even taken a 30 minute break prior to the meeting.
It was a great session. A doctor I admire talked to us about the cycle of works, how it is a formula for burnout if someone gets their worth from the things that they do. We talked about rest, why some doctors think they don’t need it and whether or not the fourth commandment applies to doctors. I even shared with the group how I sat with a doctor last Friday and asked her about her ideas on rest. “I’ll rest when the work is done” she sighed. I challenged her that maybe God was as pleased with her resting as with her working, and that maybe her high blood pressure was a sign that things were out of balance. Even in this group, I reminded them that rest is a discipline showing that even as doctors we don’t think that we are omnipotent, that we can set aside our tasks and rest in the fact that God controls outcomes, that we do not.
And yet during the meeting I was wanting to check my calendar and get ahead on projects and plans. Even during a meeting of missionary doctors about rest, I wanted to do more, prove that I was productive enough. Greg laughs sometimes that I am always talking about rest, and that my friends see me as an example of how to enjoy rest. But he sees me working 10-12 hour days and sometimes barely able to wind down by midnight. My closest friends know that I struggle with working too much about the same way that others struggle with drinking too much or eating too little. I’ve made some big improvements, even in the last year, set some important boundaries and found more balance. Like this week, I cut back my working hours to half-time by Thursday so that I wouldn’t go too far over on hours for the week. But I have to constantly remind myself when enough work is enough, I have to reward myself for leaving something undone at the end of the day and getting to bed on time.
So in some sense, I’m an unusual missionary doctor. I work flexible hours and do a lot of planning and programs so that I can make an impact on a lot of people without spinning my wheels all day. But I still have an anxiety about me, trying to prove that I’m doing enough, looking at what others are doing and trying to justify why I am just as busy as them or more productive than them. I know we need to improve our thinking as doctors, to be less focused on being heroes and more focused on being human. And as missionary doctors, we all need to embrace the idea that identity and acceptance comes from who we are and who we are loved by, and not on what we do. I think I’m learning it little by little. Even if I stress out about it when I look at my colleagues before and after a doctor’s meeting about rest.