‘Medical school is a really selfish time.’
It was just an offhand comment by our physician-speaker at one of our citywide gatherings, but it was right on the mark. He could have just as easily been talking about any stage of healthcare training. When we’re really busy, it’s so easy to say we love God and others, but in reality let our lives become all about us.
If you’re in healthcare, you probably got into it because you wanted to help people. If you’re a Christian in healthcare, you also had hopes of serving God by serving others. Of giving like Jesus gave. But along the way, it’s easy to get tired, lost and jaded.
So, how do we guard ourselves against that and make progress?
In this three-part series, I want to take a look at how we can recapture what it means to ‘give like Jesus gave’. We’ll start by exploring why we’re not more giving, then talk about what giving looks like before finishing with discussing how we can actually get there. Believing that the bible is powerful and practical, I’ll use 2 Corinthians 8 as our guide.
To make sense of this passage, though, first some quick background. In a nutshell, Paul is using the example of other Christians’ (the Macedonians: think modern-day Greece) generosity to encourage the Corinthians to give generously, too. They had started to get a gift together for their destitute brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, but hadn’t followed through. (I can identify).
So, what can we learn about why we struggle so much with giving? With being less selfish?
Let’s take a look at two lies we believe, two ways we subtly justify our self-focus.
The first lie is ‘I’m going through a hard time’, the implication being that we can’t really be expected to think much about the people around us.
To be fair, healthcare training (and beyond) is legitimately a ‘hard time’! Exams, rotations, residencies and fellowships are extremely demanding. And God himself wants us to work hard: after all, we’re ultimately working for him and preparing for the life work he’s called us to.
We’re not sure about the details, but the Macedonians were going through a hard time, a ‘severe test of affliction’, too (see verse 2). I’ll write more about this in later posts, but for now notice they responded with ‘abundance of joy’ and a ‘wealth of generosity’ and even begged Paul for the ‘favor’ of giving more than they were able to (verse 5). So, even when life is tough, there’s hope – we don’t have to be navel gazers.
The second lie is that ‘I don’t have enough resources’ to be giving. That may be financial, but more often we mean that don’t have enough inner resources, or time, to be concerned about others.
Again, there are days and even seasons where it will be harder to give others our time, attention and money. God understands that. Studying for 10 hours a day, working a twelve-hour shift, or getting ready for re-certification exams while staying acquainted with your family can leave you drained.
If you could hang out with the Macedonians, they would say, ‘We hear you. Life can be brutal. We don’t have two dimes to rub together.’ Again, without knowing all the details, they were in ‘extreme poverty’ (verse 2). The basics of food, shelter and clothing were not a given for them.
Sometimes, even though it may not be literal, we feel like we’re in ‘extreme poverty’. The ‘hard time’ we’re facing may make it seem like we don’t even have close to enough resources to meet our own, let alone others’, needs.
The other day I accidentally made a left-hand turn from the center lane. (Hey, it was a tricky situation). The police were right there and pulled me over. To make matters worse, I had mistakenly renewed our other car’s registration, but not my own. In Philly, driving without a current registration results in a ‘live stop’ – your car gets impounded and you sponsor the city’s budget for a day. After the officer sped away, I stood out in the cold, watching the distance between my tail lights and I rapidly increase. I’ll stop there.
For the rest of the day, I was the picture of ‘extreme poverty’. I didn’t want to do anything for anybody. Other people’s needs were the furthest thing from my mind. It was understandable, but later that night I had to offer a bunch of mea culpas and regretted my refusal to be the giving person I really want to be.
My ‘hard time’ and ‘extreme poverty’ didn’t result in the joy and generosity the Macedonians modeled in much harder circumstances. With God’s help, I want it to be different next time, because life is made up of moments like these.
Let’s make this personal. Are you going through a ‘severe test of affliction / hard time’ right now? Do you feel like you’re in ‘extreme poverty’ and find that it’s hard to care about others? Where do you need to seek God’s, or others’, forgiveness?
We haven’t solved any problems yet, but at least we’ve made the diagnosis: we’re pretty self-centered and need more help than we think we do. Next time, we’ll take a closer look at what it means to give like Christ. It can only get better from here!