When God Enters the Room

I don’t think a work day goes by without a patient referring to God.  Not in the form of, “Oh, God, not herpes?!”  No, when God comes into the exam room, it’s personal.

Sometimes, God enters the room by way of explanation, as in, “God healed me of my bunion.”  Other times, God is beckoned in:  “Lord, help me with this pain.”  Sometimes the reference to the Almighty seems to be a hint or prayer, “Well, I’ll be over this bug by the weekend, God willing.”   God gets the thanks for the good and exhorted for help when times are tough.  No response from me is required in these events, and I just continue on with the medical portion of the program.

I’m more stymied by the folks who enter longer conversations about the divine, assuming that my belief is like theirs.  “God is always testing us, isn’t He?  But the Lord would never give us anything we couldn’t handle.”  I generally listen quietly and nod a bit in a way that I hope shows I’m paying attention without having to enter the conversation.  It’s a struggle, and sometimes I err on the side of some false belief, if it seems an answer beyond, “Mmm,” is called for.  I don’t make up a faith statement or anything that deceptive.  Rather I try to frame my answer in a broader way. “The world is mysterious, isn’t it?” or “Life is challenging,” are favorite phrases.  “I’m glad your faith is supporting you in this time,” is another, although I pull that one our less often

I often wonder if folks notice we’re not connecting on the God issue.  No one has called me on it, although a handful have preached aplenty during those short appointments.  I doubt their preaching in response to my noncommittal responses, since during the more intense monologues, no response is sought.  I’ve never been asked directly if I believe in God, which seems fair, given I’d hope their interest is more about my credibility as their Physician Assistant.  About that, I’m glad to share.

I’ve worked with practitioners with a more traditional sense of God, and some have shared their faith with their patients when their patients initiate the contact.  It seems to have comforted their patients to make that connection, even if it’s just a more enthusiastic response from the practitioner than, “Mmm.”  It’s a connection in the partnership of patient and provider.  It’s not necessary, and I’m pretty good at connecting with patients in other ways, fostering a therapeutic partnership, but it seems to occasionally be a nice extra.

I’m sure this is far more of an issue in my mind that it is in reality.  Most stuff is.  Some of my concerns have more to do with my own wonderings about the divine than any actual tension with patients.  I do want to support my patients’ faith even if I don’t share it.  That’s part of being a Unitarian Universalist:  acceptance of others and encouragement of spiritual growth. And since involvement in prayer and meditation may be an asset to health, I have a professional interest as well.  I’ve counseled many an anxious patient on mindful meditation with a focus on the breath or a single word.  A few have returned to tell me how that practice has been helpful, so those minutes haven’t been wasted.

Faith is a source of comfort.  Whether that faith is in an omnipotent God outside of ourselves, in the mysterious workings of the universe, or the best nature of the human self, having faith brings strength.  Over the years, I’ve mused here and in my head about the nature of God or whatever is bigger than our egoic self.  I’ve wed myself to no particular theology, but know that for me, God/ground of being/the divine isn’t the guy in the sky pulling the strings.  It’s not something or someone to worship and bow down to.  It may be the best in us when we bind together or some energy of the universe.  It may simply be our best self, full of unconditional love.  I don’t know.

For all my uncertainty about God and what to do when God enters the room at work or elsewhere, I know what I can do.  I can respect the other’s beliefs, as different from my own as they may be.  I can recognize them as valuable to and valid for them, knowing we can hold different views on faith and still be okay.  I can live my faith and honor theirs, despite our differences, and that’s all that’s needed.


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