This post discusses physician spiritual wellness by approaching it from a “christocentric” perspective in order to explore what this concept could mean for people who share my faith tradition or are just open to a Christocentric perspective. I really hope y’all find it refreshing, but understand people have an array of experiences with Christianity ranging from feeling disinterested, frustrated, appalled, or even frightened by the topic. No worries. Wherever you are, feel free to skip this week and come back if you are able. But for anyone else who’s curious about my perspective, let’s get started.
If you were a part of a church youth group or “the Christian subculture” in the 1990s you likely had a bracelet, a hat, or a shirt with this on it. If you don’t know, WWJD is an initialism for What Would Jesus Do? The question was supposed to remind Christians of the moral imperative behind decisions from everyday life. And while there are critics and proponents of its use, what I want to focus on is what we are trying to accomplish with this question – reflecting on what someone we look up to would do in our situation. This impulse is not specific to Christians. Which is why I think there have been so many parodies of the abbreviation into What would John Wayne, Mary Marvel, or Brian Boitano do?
These reflective moments are signposts on our journey pointing us toward who we are becoming as physicians. Which takes us back to my proposed description of physician spiritual wellness:
Physician Spiritual Wellness is the journey for meaning and purpose amidst our day-to-day life as persons within medicine. It is the interaction of the inner life with the “rough and rugged stretches” of our path, and its destination is the good physician.
But how do we know if we are on a path that leads us to becoming a good physician? The National Wellness Institute’s definition of Spiritual Wellness would say you know you’re on the right path of the journey, “when your actions become more consistent with your beliefs and values, resulting in a ‘world view’.” This comparing and contrasting of our actions against our beliefs and commitments helps us move toward wellness by either modifying our actions or modifying our beliefs and commitments. Which brings up the typical suggestion of “finding your why,” in medicine. By remembering why we wanted to become physicians, it gives us a starting point to reflect on how that why has possibly shifted or whether our actions are congruent or dissonant with that “why.” For persons with a Christocentric religious identity, there is a distinct commitment to following the way of Jesus. The path toward, “spiritual wellness” for Christians results in a “world view” rooted in an ancient story that extends beyond themselves. Rather than self-discovery and self-mastery that is good mainly because it is authentic to my experience, a Christocentric religious identity seeks how God is revealed in our daily experiences so that our lives are consistent with an ancient, unified story that leads us to Jesus. A Christocentric journey toward physician spiritual wellness asks whether, “every step through doubt, despair, fear, disappointment, pleasure, joy, happiness, and discovery” is forming us either toward the way of Jesus or away from it. Meaning when we reflect on our actions and commitments, we are analyzing who we are becoming in light of who Christ is and what he says is the fully human life. For me, this prompts questions such as: What does it mean to be a Christian physician?
If my answers don’t reveal a person of love, joy, and peace.
Then am I becoming like Christ?
If my answers don’t reveal a person willing to sacrifice their own success, glory, or status.
Then am I becoming like Christ?
If my answer is mainly concerned with my religious freedoms, my beliefs on hot topics, and my next medical mission trip.
Then am I becoming the kind of person Christ wants me to be in my daily life?
Do we have the right vision and imagination for what discipleship in our vocation means? Maybe those of us claiming to follow Jesus need to go back and ask ourselves – what would Jesus do in the daily, tedious, hurried, risky practice of medicine?
I don’t think this is an easy question to answer that would have consensus across Christendom. At least within Christianity, an array of faith traditions resulted in an array of assumptions about faithfulness to God in daily life. I know as a finite creature I have my own biases and blind spots. So although I think spiritual wellness is at some level individual work, I think exploring physician spiritual wellness through a Christocentric perspective can only be found both individually & in community. I think this gives great purpose to your time in residency. Not as a time to “just survive” or “just get through” but a time that reveals our commitments and challenges our “why.” And from a Christocentric perspective, a unique opportunity to explore, “what would Jesus do?”
This week reflect on why you wanted to become a physician & who you want to emulate in your practice of medicine?