‘As GP’s, we’ve been scrambling to keep up’

Catherine’s story | The value of rest

“When I was 16, I decided I wanted to be a doctor. Growing up with an Asian mother, medicine was always a desirable occupation! I studied hard and got in. By the time I was 21, I noticed that although I was good at taking 15-minute patient histories (working out problems and solving them quickly), I was forgetting how to talk to people and have normal conversations!

So, I took a year off. I extended my third-year medical elective in Africa to travel, and returned home for a year.  I called it my sabbatical and deliberately got involved in church and did a PTC (preliminary theological certificate). I spent really good time with God and with people. I chatted to them! It was good timing before I got swept away with the demands of a medical career.

The following year, I was back to the grind. I finished my study and specialised in general practice. I set up my own practice at home and joined another practice as well. By the time I was 28, I needed to slow down again! So that time, instead of taking a full year off, I changed my work habits: I cut back from full-time to part-time work. I helped start a church plant at Newcastle University, which I loved. Then the same thing happened when I was 35. I took a full year off, now with a new bub and toddler. As I did, I noticed something. I’d been taking a sabbatical every seven years. I really liked that idea! I hadn’t done it deliberately, but since then, I’ve kept that cycle going – resting and refreshing every seven years.

For me, I love the reminder in Genesis 2:1-2 that God rested: “Thus, the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day, God had finished the work he had been doing: so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” God didn’t need to rest. But he chose to. That’s what heaven is – God enjoying his world and his people. He takes delight in us and he rests. It’s tempting for us to be ‘human do-ings’ rather than ‘human be-ings’. And it’s easy for that to lead to burnout. It’s particularly common in my profession and for my personality type. Just because I’m capable of doing many things, doesn’t mean to it’s good to take them all on!

Stopping and resting is so important. It helps me to step back and soak in God’s heavenly perspective. As well as taking every seventh year off, I now take four hours every Monday morning. I sit with God and read the Bible and pray and journal. I usually sit in the coffee shop overlooking the park. During lockdown, I sit on my deck overlooking the garden. I find great joy in soaking up scripture in nature. It recalibrates me. And I say to people (especially young mums), you have to find rest. You have to find your own rhythm, whatever that is, in order to care for others. If I don’t rest, I lose that compassion. I just get cranky and irritated!

Of course, work is busy at the moment. Since the pandemic began, we’ve been scrambling (as GPs) to keep up. Every evening, we’re trying to update with the latest information. At first, it was telehealth (video-conferencing). I had to work out the best option for every patient and then show them how to use it (especially the older ones).  We’d practice it step-by-step. Right now, it’s vaccinations. I’ve been having hundreds of the same conversations, over and over again. People are distressed, so the consults can last anything from a few minutes to an hour, depending on the need. And the goalposts keep moving!

This year, I’ve been memorising Bible verses on Monday mornings. This week it was Phil 4:8. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”  That’s helpful for me right now in the midst of this pandemic. Come to think of it, I’m due for another sabbatical in 2025, which is an excellent thing to think about! In the meantime, I want to keep being that ordinary person, infusing God into all the aspects of our ordinary lives.”

Catherine’s story is part of Eternity’s Faith Stories series, compiled by Naomi Reed. Click here for more Faith Stories.

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