I used to think my job was hard, and then I got married. My wife is a physician, and I’ve been blessed to be her partner through MCATs, interviews, medical school, match day, and (most of) residency. United Methodist clergy go through a period of formation called “residency” before we are ordained, but trust me, it’s nothing like medical residency. I am constantly in awe of what my wife and her colleagues do: not just the technical mastery needed, not just the massive amounts of knowledge one is expected to hold or the crazy hours doctors work – but the fact lives are in their hands day in and day out, and at risk in decisions great and small.
The work of clergy is in some ways similar. If we believe that spiritual health matters at all, or that it somehow intersects with physical, mental, and emotional health, then the care of souls is critically important as well. In our democratized age of religion, many of us try to “go it alone.” But I’m here to tell you: the self-guided information about physical health available on the internet is of the same dismal quality that one finds in the spiritual realm. The care of those called to these ministries thus has some things in common, not least in the importance of formation for doctors and clergy, but also in the challenges they face. I resonate with Atul Gawande’s description of medicine in Better:
“But success in medicine has dimensions that cannot be found on a playing field. For one, lives or on the line. Our decisions and omissions are therefore moral in nature. We also face daunting expectations. In medicine, our task is to cope with illness…the steps are often uncertain. The knowledge to be mastered is both vast and incomplete. Yet we are expected to act with swiftness and consistency, even when the task requires marshaling hundreds of people…for the care of a single person. We are also expected to do our work humanely, with gentleness and concern. It’s not only the stakes but also the complexity of performance in medicine that makes it so interesting and at the same time, so unsettling.” (4)
I contend that one could replace “medicine” with “ministry” in the above, and the description would still ring true. As a friend of mine says, the work of a pastor or priest is full of both “blessings and bedevilments,” which is of course true for most, if not all, vocations.
My wife has given me newfound appreciation for medicine. Gawande has helped me see some fascinating connections between my wife’s calling and my own.
What other connections do you see? Have I overstated my case? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.