Re-finding My Purpose
A week ago I get called at midnight: there’s a 3 week-old baby who has a fever and has come into the hospital. Although quite a common problem, a fever in a newborn is a dangerous thing because their immune defenses have not yet formed and they are at high risk for invasive bacterial infections. I am on my 7th night of pediatric call this month. I get up and head to the hospital. After examining the infant, I discover no obvious source to this fever. Although it is the middle of the night, this situation calls for full studies in this newborn baby: blood & urine studies, IV antibiotics, spinal tap, and admission to the hospital pending results and for observation. It all took about 2 hours and I head back home to get back in bed.
Although I was more than happy to provide such important care to this baby, this month has already had its fair share of stressors: multiple hospitalized patients I have cared for on a daily basis, daily clinic hours, several call nights, 1 unexpected newborn death I was on call for, and a smattering of random daily phone calls from fellow doctors for consultations or from the nurses to clarify orders. And it has all added up.
On one of these exceptionally exhausting days I was casually talking to Devyn’s Spanish teacher Edgar and he asked me how I was doing. I told him how exhausted I was, but isn’t this the life of a Christian? You pour yourself out for others and God fills you up, right??? At the time of this comment I became upset with God, that He was not filling me up, not keeping up His end of the bargain, when this whole time I have been doing His work.
Why am I so exhausted by midweek that all I want to do when I get home is stare at a wall? And is that fair to Devyn? What good is it to be in Peru if I am burning out every week and am starting to build resentment?
Needless to explain further I have felt like I have been burning the candle at both ends. Basically, by Wednesday each week I am beat.
What happens next is truly a miracle in God’s timing.
Before we signed up for our term here in Peru, we knew that our sending organization had yearly retreats for their missionaries but we didn’t know when it would be happening. So, we received an email that this year the retreat would take place in May, in Kenya of all places, paid for and everything! I am absolutely amazed at God’s timing because I really felt like now that I had undergone an entire season at the hospital under my belt, and I needed to evaluate how things were going at the hospital. And I was burnt out!
I know God wanted me to take a step back and reflect on how I can best adjust to the daily grind: some of it is just plain old adjustment to the hard work, but other is remembering why I am doing what I am doing, and figuring out what steps need to be taken to make it sustainable so that I don’t find myself burning out and just waiting for the weekend to recharge.
First, I need to brag on God for answering my prayer and cry for help. He is a GOOD father.
I write this as we are on the airplane back to Peru just after the retreat: I feel like I am carrying a renewed sense of purpose, both Devyn and I feeling fully refreshed after a 5-day intentional time with breakout sessions that dealt with burnout, marriage, debriefing, finding community and purpose on the field, and several conversations with other missionaries that were a huge breath of fresh air we needed since being in Peru (it felt good to talk to people that were going through the same kind of struggles).
This trip I learned that in every struggle it is important to:
- PRAY, man, ‘cause God is listening and He WILL ANSWER and will never leave us alone PERIOD (even if the prayer is simply “I don’t know how, but I do know that I need help” or “c’mooooon God!!”).
- REMEMBER MY PURPOSE and why I am in Peru in the first place, and make any adjustments to my schedule to allow me to remember this purpose (for example: I am now thinking about using my extra time at the hospital to visit with patients just to hear their stories, or maybe to take time to encourage and pray for the hospitalized patients)
- REACH OUT to your support team/community whenever possible (we weren’t meant to do this alone)
Ari, a fellow doctor, recently left our hospital in Peru with a plan to eventually go serve somewhere else with her husband. Before she left, I asked her to share what she had learned after serving for many years as a missionary doctor in Peru. She gave me her own version of 1 Corinthians 13, which I wanted to share with you:
“If I speak in the tongues of English and German and Spanish and Quechua, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I see 100 or 1000 needy patients in the waiting room per day, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I leave my family and friends behind and sell house and home and all I possess to go serve the poor in the mountains of Peru, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”- 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (Ari’s version)
So many times, we get caught up in “doing” for God or others that we eventually look up and find that we are burnt out and no longer doing what matters most which is actually LOVE.
We may need to re-prioritize and get back to LOVING MORE even if it means less DOING LESS.
May this be an encouragement to all to assess where you are at in this process. Maybe you need to make up your own version of 1 Corinthians 13 and take a step back to re-evaluate where you have prioritized “doing” over “loving” and finding your own practical ways to keep your purpose and vision fresh.
Here are some photos from Kenya.. and me resting hahah!