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ss nucleus - Summer 2020,  Remaining in Christ Jesus in medicine

Remaining in Christ Jesus in medicine

Rachel Owusu-Ankomah considers how our identity works out practically in our studies

Rachel Owusu-Ankomah is CMF Head of Student Ministries

the identity issue

If Jesus should be our first, [1] our all in all [2] and our ultimate, how do we apply that to our studies and the future profession that we will be entering? How do we practically keep our identity rooted in Christ and sustain this amidst the changing seasons and challenges of life?

introduction - why the issue exists

Identity issues will affect us whatever our degree or career path, but there are factors unique to those studying medicine, midwifery and nursing. Some are obvious, such as being busy, a full university schedule and placements far away from our base. Some are more insidious like the pressure to perform and the fear of making a life or death mistake; pressures can come from everywhere; from ourselves, others and the course itself.These things should cause us to look outwards and most importantly, upwards for help and support, [3] but all too often we internalise them and they cause our studies to consume us and characterise who we are. Don't get me wrong, it is good for us to study medicine, nursing and midwifery. [4] It is good to want to use the skills and opportunities we have well, to show kindness, compassion and care to people made in the image of God. [5] But these things can so easily tip from being good things to 'god' things, putting our studies and future profession above our service and worship of God. [6] This, at its core, is idolatry. [7]

introduction: my story

For me, I had recognised early on in my degree how easy it was for medicine to become an idol and I encouraged myself to 'hold it lightly'. I'd regularly ask myself how I would feel if medicine was 'taken away' from me - a useful reality check for my heart that I know is so easily prone to wander. [8] Answering that question was a way of reminding me to keep Jesus front and centre in my life and studies. It became harder to answer in that way when I got my dream job in my dream location. I was so desperate to impress my bosses and make my mark that God was slowly pushed out. The job started to define me and who I was. I'd come in early and stay late, then be too tired to do church on the Sundays when I wasn't working, let alone spending time in God's word and praying to him. I would prioritise the weekly optional team meeting over home group. I justified this to myself by saying, 'I am here as a Christian, I am being salt and light and I can save my professors, consultants and colleagues'. Or, 'I just need to get through this job then I can get my life on track'. At the heart of this was pride and a massive saviour complex. Instead of being defined by God and his word, finding my purpose and worth in him, medicine had become all of that for me. I had forgotten to fear God, not man; [9] I had forgotten that God is sovereign over all things, not my bosses; [10] I had forgotten that Jesus is the one who saves, not me; [11] I had forgotten to serve God and God alone. [12] What do the idols in your life look like? What does it look like to have your identity rooted in things other than God? Perhaps it's the thing you put in the gap of this sentence. 'I will be happy when…' — when I get that grade, get that relationship, get that house, get that role. Perhaps it is the satisfaction, self-validation and sense of purpose we get from people thinking that we work hard and are valuable in what we are doing?

how do we address this?

When we root our identity in other things, we are drawn away from God, who he is, what he has done for us and what he requires of us. [13] We may proudly think we are a ship, anchored by our 'new god', but the reality is we are like driftwood in the sea [14] and all these things so easily 'perish, spoil and fade' [15] and leave us empty handed.Wrong priorities and shifted focus also take us away from the things that God is trying to teach us and grow us in. [16] It can take us away from where he is leading us and from our flourishing, which we can only do in and through him. [17]

let's get practical

It is important to recalibrate and refocus our hands, hearts and minds to walk in our identity in Christ and the things he calls us to do. But how do we do that? Here are five suggestions:

1. seek first his kingdom and his righteousness [18]

The wider context for this verse is the worrying we all do, the constant preoccupation with our tasks. 'I've got so much to do, need to finish that essay, go to the shops, do stuff for my CV, study for my exam — if I don't, everything is going to crumble'. Here Jesus is challenging us to redress that, I would argue, not just theoretically but literally. What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? I'm ashamed to admit, it is usually checking my WhatsApp messages. For me, seeking his kingdom first in the morning means prioritising prayer and spending time with God over social media.

There are so many things that distract us from this command, particularly considering the attention economy, which treats our focus as a resource to be commodified. [19] We need to minimise the distractions that take us away from God so we can seek him first. This is not easy, and we need to pray to be spiritually disciplined. Those of us that follow Jesus Christ are filled with the spirit of God and this spirit is one of power, love and self-discipline. [20] So let us recognise this and pray that the spirit will help us to seek him first in all things. What does seeking first his kingdom look like in your life? What distractions do you need to minimise to enable you to do this throughout your day?

2. rest!

Rest is part of how God operates. We see this in the creation narrative, [21] and also in the famous words of Jesus from Matthew. [22] Not resting almost seems to be a way of life and badge of honour amongst students as we work hard on placements, with coursework and for exams. All too often this highlights a lack of dependence on God and our desire to be in control and do things in our own strength. [23] No! Let's not do that, people! God has given us rest to withdraw and be renewed and refreshed in him — that's the whole point of the sabbath. If the creator of the heavens and the earth can rest, I think we can too. In following God's pattern for rest, we flourish; it helps us to remain rooted in him.As someone who has manged to burn out at least twice (yes, I was an idiot and didn't learn my lesson the first time), God has refined me to see the beauty and necessity of rest. Resting in him, keeping a sabbath (when not on call), and not working all the time has made me more productive, eased stress and allowed me to be more dependent on him.What patterns of rest and restoration do you need to build into your week to stay rooted in him? What might you need to stop doing to achieve this?

3. check yourself

We need to check ourselves; our hearts, minds and hands. What are we doing? Why are we doing it? Too often we let our activity fuel our identity, rather than our identity fuel our activity. James 1:22-24 puts it beautifully! Are we living like those who have their identity in Christ? All too often we can just go through the motions. Having our identity correctly placed means we will allow God to hold up a mirror to our personal lives through his word and so change and refine us. [24] Am I holding onto medicine, nursing or midwifery lightly? How can I allow my identity in Christ to fuel my activity, rather than my activity to fuel my identity?

4. get an accountability buddy and/or mentor

We all have blind spots and areas where we are more prone to slip up. Part of the beauty of the church and the Christian community is allowing other people to shape us and build us up in Christ. [25] Proverbs is full of verses that encourage us to get an accountability buddy. [26] My faithful wounder is Esther from my church. She calls me out when she sees me doing too much and when I start wavering in my faith as work pressures increase and I place my identity there. I'm grateful to God for her and how our friendship has sharpened and shaped our faith and helped to keep our eyes fixed on him. [27] What are your blind spots that cause you to place your identity elsewhere? Who in your life can help you keep account and fix your eyes on Jesus?

5. lead by example and look out for others

We must recognise that studying medicine, midwifery and nursing comes with an innate responsibility. Nursing is the most trusted profession, with doctors not too far behind. [28] Even the first-year student is looked up to, whether by younger siblings, family members or people at church. It's not about putting on a show and making things appear as if they are all fine, like some sort of stained glassed masquerade, but being vulnerable and letting people see all of us and learn from it. That's includes our mistakes as well as our successes as we seek to live for and have our identity firmly placed in Christ.It can be so easy to be self-centred as we work out our own faith with fear and trembling. [29] But we are not bots in isolation, rather unique individuals made in the image of God, who are part of the body of Christ. It has never been good for man to be alone [30] and the ultimate expression of that is our unity with Christ. [31] It is also expressed within the church. Let us be looking out for one another too. Let us at the very least be praying for fellow brothers and sisters that they will be in and remain in Christ and that this will be their primary identity, not their studies or future profession.Do others see that your identity is rooted in Christ when they look at your life? Who are you encouraging and discipling to remain rooted in Christ?

where next?

We have covered a lot of ground here and there will be much to reflect on in our lives, through God's Word, prayer and his people. But as I said at the beginning, if Jesus really is our identity then we need to reflect seriously and consider what that looks like in our lives and take practical steps to achieve that in and through Christ.

when we root our identity in other things, we are drawn away from God

if the creator of the heavens and the earth can rest, I think we can too

A translation of this article can be found on the website of CMF's sister organisation in Portugal, ACEPS
1. Matthew 6:33
2. Luke 10:27
3. Psalm 121:2
4. Ephesians 2:10
5. Exodus 1:17, Luke 10:34, Luke 8:43-49
6. Romans 12:1-2
7. Exodus 20:3, Isaiah 44:6-20
8. Psalm 119:10, Jeremiah 17:9
9. Ecclesiastes 12:13
10. Romans 8:28
11. John 3:16
12. Exodus 20:4-6
13. Exodus 20:1-17, Micah 6:8, Luke 10:27
14. Hebrews 2:1
15. 1 Peter 1:4
16. Hebrews 5:12-14, 1 Peter 2:2
17. Job 8:11-15, Psalm 1:1-6, Psalm 92:13
18. Matthew 6:33
19. Reichow, L. Trained to distraction - the attention economy technology and our lives. English L'Abri 15 July 2018.
20. 2 Timothy 1:7
21. Genesis 2:2-322. Matthew 11:28
23. Philippians 4:12-13, 2 Corinthians 12:9
24. Stewart, D. What are some of the effects of sin on the life of the believer? Blue Letter Bible.
25. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
26. Proverbs 27:6,17
27. Hebrews 12:2
28. IPSOS MORI veracity index 2019. October 2019.
29. Philippians 2:12
30. Genesis 2:18, Ecclesiastes 4:8-12
31. Philippians 2:1-5
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