21 October 2005

Education for the soul

My Scripture reading today was Numbers 20. The tragic chapter where Moses & Aaron are sentenced from ever entering the Promised Land. Next to Adam & Eve getting banished from Eden, this must be the second most heart-wrenching moment in the Pentateuch. Moses venting his frustration, Aaron following suit, both of them receiving their sentence, Aaron degarbed... There is a pained silence in that chapter that shrieks of a tragedy too grave to put in words.

But the lesson is so clear. In this journey, on this side of heaven, God is interested most in my faith. And by faith I don't mean a mental approbration of a set of doctrines, but a deep visceral belief that God saves and provides. I'm beginning to see that wilderness periods are potentially the most precious of times. They make or break us. Sometimes I choose rightly, sometimes I don't. But my faith is being built from the ground up.

Do I believe enough to do just as He says, and only as He says - no more, no less. No need to give God a helping hand or take extra precautionary measures, just in case?

A couple of days ago, while trying to repeat some Scripture to myself, I found I couldn't say 'In God I trust, whose word I praise' with any amount of sincerity. There is way too much unbelief within. Does God really meet all my emotional, vocational, financial needs?

How much of my decisions and actions are predicated on this unbelief? There is much unbelief to repent of, and much transforming work to be done in my heart. A work accomplished only by receiving His love in the deepest recesses of my soul. This 'wilderness' I'm in isn't the first and certainly not the last. But in each episode, I pray that the soul-education that God is offering is not lost on me.

18 October 2005

Career Wilderness

My current university job has been a great trial for me in a paradoxical sense - I am under-worked. I feel my research talents are wasted, opportunities to develop surgical skill is denied, and overall I have little to contribute in my current capacity. My hope of moving to our designated hospital where I may have the freedom and opportunity to fluorish has been dashed over and over again.

And all this, over the past year and a half, has plunged me into pits of depression - doubting my own worth and progress in life. I am only in my mid-30s and I feel like I'm ready for retirement!

In that context, I read today something from Rachel Remen. She says, 'Many times we can put them (suffering) behind us and get on with the rest of our lives. But.. some things are too big or too deep to do this, and we will have to leave important parts of ourselves behind if we treat them in this way. These are the places where wisdom begins to grow in us. It begins with suffering that we do not avoid or rationalize or put behind us. It starts with the realization that our loss, whatever it is, has become a part of us and has altered our lives so profoundly that we cannot go back to the way it was before.'

I am beginning to move from denial to acceptance. Life needs rebuilding and redefining. I want to believe that this period of career wilderness is refining me in ways I can't see. That God is chiseling ruthlessly away at my ambition, my drivenness and my restlesness. I am forced to ask, what IS really important to me and to God? Am I what I do, or do I do what I am? I am forced to face my deep unbelief that God could be in control and pry my controlling fingers into open hands. I am forced to confront my fears of becoming obsolete, irrelevant, useless, a vocational failure.

I believe that suffering/hunger is grace. I believe this wilderness is a gift to embrace. It is the panting without which the deer would not seek a stream. It is in my wilderness that I am compelled to ask the most important questions: who am I and who is my God?

15 October 2005

My soul, find rest!

My soul, find rest!
Find rest in God alone.

Not with your thoughts

Not with your ambitions

Not with your books
or PC
or projects

Not clawing at things to achieve
Things to hold
People to impress

It's so hard isn't it?
Are you afraid,
There is nothing there?

Do not fear
Being alone
For alone is where I am
And where you are is where God is

11 October 2005

Mary and Martha slugs it out

I see so much of myself in the Martha depicted here – craving for attention, exhausted without it, presenting my best work, vying for merit. And then appaled to have Jesus point a finger at Mary, not in condemnation, but to show me that it is the ‘better way’ Oh man, had I known...

The Mary within continues to wage war with the Martha in me. Or rather my inner Mary continues to be bashed by my type-A, engine-driven Martha, accusing: Why do you sit around and do nothing? What have you achieved today, this week, this month? Are you getting anywhere? How can you be so inactive when there are so many needs around you? Don't just sit there, do something already! With that kind of inner drivenness playing out all day, it's no wonder I exhaust myself so easily. On the other hand, even when I am drained, I do not know how to rest.

I journaled on Saturday:
'If not for the discipline of a weekend review, I won't even have realised how much and why I am in severe unrest and plummetting into unhealthy habits.

Here I am at the end of the week, insomniac and weighed down by false guilt. And I'm not letting up - I still feel like I need to do more, find more to do, feel so unaccomplished...

But look at the week:
- you operated on a mycetoma
- you ran a busy clinic
- you've written 2 chapters of your book
- you've read a few papers
- you met with and counseled 2 people
- you took two bedside teachings
- you ran once in the morning
- traffic has been murderous
- you brought your parents to Serdang

You are so driven and so addicted to the adrenaline, your insight/memory is clouded. All you can feel/see is your need to DO SOMETHING. You are not how many articles you write, how many classes you take, how many poeple you meet, or how much weight you lose. These are the guidelines I use to live a healthy life, but they do not constitute who I am. I am who I am. And God loves me as I am.

If there is a time you need to STOP and DO NOTHING - IT IS NOW!


Jesus says to the Martha in me: "Yoke Yeow, Yoke Yeow, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Choose what is better, and it will not be taken away from you."

There comes a point every day, and at the end of every week, that I must hear that firm voice and cease. Disengage my gears, detach from the work, and declare a time of Sabbath rest. A time to just BE. Reaffirm I am who I am, apart from and before the work.

Lincoln was depressed?

Soo Inn writes in Learning from Lincoln that the great president of the US of A struggled all his life with depression, but that depression gave him clarity, creativity, and humility.

SI also shares: 'as one who has made his own short sojourn into clinical depression I cannot see how I would wish that experience on any one... The reality is that we now live in a fallen world where pain is a given. Quoting Eugene O'Neil, Shenk reminds us that “Man is born broken.” Post Fall, pain is a given. A wise and loving God now uses that brokenness for His higher purposes. Today, we live in a society that sees pain as an enemy to be removed as quickly and as efficiently as possible. I understand this desire. Pain is no fun. It's just that sometimes we remove pain too quickly, before it can deliver its message.'

Thank you for that, Soo Inn. As someone who suffers recurrent low-grade depression, I couldn't agree more. I am constantly faced with a choice: to fight the pain or to embrace it. To pour my energies into palliating it, or do the surgical work of dealing with its root causes.

I accept that on this side of heaven, the agony of living cannot possibly be eradicated. Instead pain can show me my greatest needs/weaknesses and keep driving me forward in my journey to God. Befriend your pain, Nouwen would say. Let it show the way.

As surgeons, we understand that more than anyone else. Pain brings the patient to us. The nature of pain guides us to the pathology. And the goals of treatment is not mere pain-relief but cure, by surgical removal if necessary. There are instances, even, where pain-relief is cruelly deprived of the patient - in fear of 'masking' the disease process. In the same spirit, I read yesterday Yancey's summation of the book of Job: 'God is more interested in our faith than our pleasure.'

Lincoln was depressed? It's good to know we're in good company!