rotating header

Saturday, November 05, 2016

On Contentment, and the Gentleness that makes others Great

I think it is a measure of life's edginess when Bible verses consistently jump off the page.

Though our week at the hospital was shortened by the Litein/Kabarak trip, the three days felt like an age.  Last week we had a team of 2 consultants, 2 Medical Officers (finished their internship), 2 Interns, and 7 clinical officer (like PA) interns.  It's a challenge to interview, examine, write notes, draw labs, think about 80+ patients while teaching with a team of 13, but it's nearly impossible with a team of 3, which is what happened Thursday morning.  Some of that was beyond my control, murkily shifting hospital assignments, people sent to seminars, a funeral.  But the cluster of the youngest trainees abandoned me en masse after I seemed too impatient to start rounds at 9 am, and asked if they would be able to take vital signs on patients before the 8 am CME that happens twice a week.

Fail, again.  The social shaming of the group action, I found, is quite painful.  I didn't think I was being unreasonable, but in their view I was, so they just held back in the nursing station while I worked on alone, then left.  So the one remaining intern, one CO who broke ranks, and I were left to plow through the day's work.  We split directions and did our best, which it turns out wasn't good enough when a patient I hadn't seen due to the division of labor died in my hands 24 hours later.

They were all back the next day but not speaking to me when I tried to understand what had happened.  So after the first room of patients, I asked my consultant colleague to mediate and help me.  We all stood in the hall, and she calmly got them to talk until it came out.  They felt pushed.  When pushed, the culturally acceptable response is passive-aggressive.  They left.  My colleague wisely led a discussion then of how we could get our work done, and suggestions were offered all around (though coming to work before 8 is clearly not one of them).  I apologised and asked them to forgive me.

After 23 years in Africa, you would think I would get it.  But the characteristics of a good doctor:  tenacity, demanding excellence, willing to go the extra mile, task more than time oriented, modeling and expecting 100% effort, advocacy for patients . . . are pretty much in direct opposition to some of the qualities of a good missionary:  flexibility, seeking relational peace more than particular outcomes, accepting completely different ways of doing things, uncritical.  Jesus would know how to hold both true at once. I'm struggling.  It's a system that teeters on the edge of dysfunction at all moments, and holds together by the slenderest margins that have evolved over decades.  And I keep sending waves of disequilibrium.  Deep down, I know that Thursday morning was not a moment of shining light.  I was feeling the burden of abandonment, operating from pride, making assumptions, not listening.

I don't love the passive-aggressive collective-withdrawal nature of African politics, but I get it.  And I do love the readiness to negotiate, to listen, and to forgive.  By Friday afternoon, the two ring-leaders who instigated punishing me were instead smiling and helping me.  Deep breath.  I still feel tentative, and a bit foolish.  Unworthy of being an Area Director when my language and culture skills are so poor.  And all this came on top of finding out we couldn't move into our house this weekend as we had been hoping.  Still not ready.  Another week in the "dorm".  It wears one down.

Which brings us to the morning's Bible reading from Philippians 4:

For I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:  
I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.

Wow.  I thought we were living quite simply with grace, but when we got past a month with no sure end in sight, it wasn't easy.  When I was actively abased, it wasn't easy.  The passage goes on:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me . . 
And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

The cooperation and functionality of trainees isn't our strength.  Having friends, being liked, having a home, being settled, aren't our strengths.  Those are good things to work towards and ask for, but in the meantime faith means believing that all our real needs have been supplied.  I don't have to badger people or struggle, because Jesus has us in hand, connects us to the riches of God's glory.

Would you pray for us to believe that and live in the strength of contentment this week?  Another verse from Psalm 18 this morning says "Your right hand has held me up, your gentleness has made me great".  I want to be a person of gentleness that makes others great.  Lord have mercy, that's a tall order, but worth asking for.  Thanks.

1 comment:

Charles Woernle said...

I felt sad reading this post. I pray y'all are uplifted and renewed emotionally and spiritually through your service. Snares come in many guises.
Mungu awabariki.