In just the past couple weeks I have been almost surprised by how many patients of mine have asked to talk about matters of faith. As a doctor I am privileged to touch people’s lives at very vulnerable times, and it’s at those times where faith makes a significant difference.

Here are a few vignettes:

  • A woman facing challenging hormonal problems says, “I looked at your online profile, and I’m glad you’re a minister also. I want to be able to talk about those things too.”
  • A couple facing long-term infertility wrestling with whether God would look kindly on their use of fertility treatment, or whether they should accept childlessness as God’s will for them.
  • A patient needing an urgent C-section says, “We prayed that the doctor who would deliver our baby would be a believer too. You are an answer to prayer.”
  • A woman who is newly pregnant, feeling guilty about her previous abortion and wondering whether God would punish her by not allowing this pregnancy to continue.

What is it these patients are looking for from me? Why do they bring up spiritual matters? What do they need?

People in trouble certainly do not need a lecture on some matter of doctrine. They don’t care which church I go to, or whether I read my Bible today. These patients are looking for highly competent medical care, and if I cannot offer that nothing else will matter. Many other doctors can offer that same level of expertise.

But these patients are looking for something more from me also. When they talk about matters of faith they need:

  1. Compassion for their struggle. Life, death, mortality, physical health – these things stir up deep struggles of meaning and spirituality for people. When they know I am a believer (or a minister), they rightfully expect a clearer level of understanding and compassion for their own struggle not only on the physical level, but for their spiritual struggle also.
  2. God’s perspective on their struggle. I don’t pretend to be God. But people in trouble need to hear, out loud, words such as, “I believe God forgives you.” “God built the desire for a child deep into your heart. He treasures that.” “I pray God blesses your new baby, and He rejoices with you!” Hearing such words helps bring meaning and comfort to them.
  3. Understanding of cooperation. Medically we cannot create life or prevent death: ultimately that is in God’s hands. But there is much we can do to work together with Him using medical technology, a healthy lifestyle, etc. They expect me to help them understand what that means for them.

Some people would argue that discussing such matters with patients is beyond my rightful place as a doctor. I believe that I am doing my patients a disservice if I neglect those issues. If you disagree, ask the patients going through such struggles!

My faith does make a difference. And I am privileged to share that with patients who ask for it.

Your turn: Where in your world do people care about your faith (whether or not you talk about it)? What difference does your faith make in your daily work? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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