Over the past four months since starting my family medicine residency training I have been faced with numerous challenges, new knowledge and many opportunities to grow and learn as a physician. I have seen drugs change lives and the cessation of drugs save others. I have seen the power of diagnostic tests and the unforgiving nature of end stage disease. I have felt entirely competent and utterly helpless in what seemed like the very same breath.
It is has been one heck of a four months so far.
Looking back, I can recall exactly where it all began, just mere minutes into my first hospital shift, finding myself walking passed a room that yearned for my presence.
Beaming with color and a welcoming warmth, I decided to pass into this room silently calling my name.
Now, you may be wondering, what sort of hospital room beams with warmth, or overflows with an energy too powerful to pass by?
Was it a patient? Their loved ones? A collective family in need?
Was it my colleagues? My mentors? A guiding physician for me?
Truth is, I wasn’t called to a patient, my colleagues or a family in need.
I wasn’t called to a miracle, a synchronous meeting, or a moment of awakening.
I was called to a task that was neither grand or ornate, witnessed or recorded, creative or unique.
I was, you see, simply called to pray.
Finding myself in my hospital’s chapel, I was accompanied by empty chairs and the first morning’s fluorescent light at 6:20 AM on your average Monday morning.
Pausing, resting, reflecting and breathing, I sat in stillness to hear what needed to come from my heart and through my lips.
Uttering words I cannot precisely remember now, I recall asking for strength to remain open as a vessel, bringing healing from a source divine over us all. And thanking my Father, my Mother, my Divine for giving me the chance to be such a vessel, wishing above all that suffering could be relieved.
After a minute or two, I slowly opened my eyes, steadied my gate, and walked two sets of steps to meet the pediatric team and see our first families in need.
Over the next few weeks, I would complete this ritual on numerous occasions, striving for it to be the first act of my day. Yet, like many habits, with even the greatest intentions, I soon came to discover I was far, far from perfect.
For medicine you see, can convince even the most willing of hearts that it should come first, as it hold the real innate power to heal the most desperately sick.
And when prayer becomes inconvenient, in those sleep-deprived mornings, medicine really seems like it must be the only way.
And it wasn’t until, just a few weeks ago, with the guidance of my pastor, that I saw the mistakes in my logic. Speaking to our congregation with tears in his eyes, he shared from his heart two simple words. PRAY FIRST. Yes indeed, PRAY FIRST.
Joining this cascade of tears, I saw exactly where I had strayed, seeing my hands and my words at the bedside of the patient to be what the world first expected of me, but not fully embracing the complete capacity to heal.
It wasn’t that what my heart, my hands and my mind were doing was all wrong, for medicine, indeed, was what I was called and created to do.
Medicine simply needed to wait patiently alongside my mind, knowing my heart should come first, and reflection reveal a few words of loving prayer.
PRAY FIRST, PRACTICE SECOND
For medicine needs prayer and prayer needs medicine, just as we need medicine and prayer needs us.
But medicine without prayer will never be healing, and prayer without medicine can just become kneeling.
Whether you have been called to serve in a profession of healing or in a field far away from the hospital wards, I simply ask of you now, with a humble and yearning heart
PRAY FIRST, PRACTICE SECOND, never forgetting what’s first called of you.
Knowing prayer is just a practice, just not the practice that one should see as two.