Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Giving Up Control

In youth we are called from dependency to independence, in middle age to interdependence; and in old age, ultimately, back to dependency again. But to make this final transition, we must be willing and able to give up control. A sixty-five-year-old woman came to see me for depression precipitated by detached retinas, which had rendered her ninety percent blind. She was filled with rage at her condition and at the ophthalmologist who had failed to save her from it. By our second session the underlying theme had become clear. “I just hate it,” she said, “when they have to take my arm to usher me into the pew or help me down the church steps.” And shortly thereafter, “I’m just plain bored stuck at home so much. Lots of people offer to drive me wherever I want to go, but I can’t ask them to assist me all the time.”

Fortunately for us both, she was a religious person. “It is clear to me,” I said, “that in your life you managed to become a remarkably independent woman, and it is quite natural for you to have taken a great deal of pride in your independence. But, you know, it’s a journey from here to heaven, and I suspect we can get there only when we travel lightly. I’m not sure you can make it carrying around all that pride. I can’t fault you for thinking of your blindness as a curse. It is conceivable to me, however, that you might think of it as a blessing given to you to help you strip away all your pride in your independence. Considering your health otherwise, you’ve probably got another good fifteen years left. It’s up to you whether you want to live those years under a curse or under a blessing.”

She made the right choice, and her depression quickly lifted. But a great many do not make the right choice and fight the calling to give up control to the bitter end.

                                                                       -M Scott Peck, A World Waiting to be Born

Thursday, July 12, 2018


What we say to people matters less than the attitude of mind they see we have toward them.

                   -Tournier on Tolerance
                     The Person Reborn

This is so convicting and inspiring to my arrogant mind.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Weakness and Strength

If we deny our weakness and the reality of death, if we want to be powerful and strong always, we deny a part of ourselves, we live an illusion. To be human is to accept who we are, this mixture of strength and weakness. To be human is to accept and love others just as they are. To be human is to be bonded together, each with our weaknesses and strengths, because we need each other. Weakness, recognized, accepted, and offered, is at the heart of belonging, so it is at the heart of communion with another.
                                                                         -Jean Vanier, Becoming Human

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Doubt and Courage

We all know of Christians who say that they have never doubted. Their lives seem so pale, so far off from the heroic adventure that is faith. The most fruitful believers tell us ashamedly of the inner battles that have torn them between doubt and faith. And the great Bible characters from Abraham or Moses right through Jacob, Jeremiah, Peter, and Paul all show us their conflict-filled lives, their revolts against heaven, their refusals to adapt to a God who was too demanding of them…They were real men!...they would not give in easily. Therefore their surrender had nothing in it that resembled childish dependency. Their very surrender was an act of manly courage. It brought them to human fulfillment and opened up human history to new seasons of life.

                                                                             -Paul Tournier, The Seasons of Life

Monday, May 28, 2018

A Spiritual Review of Systems

If you have ever been to the doctor for a new problem, you undoubtedly have been subjected to a series of questions by the physician as he or she tries to figure out what is causing your problem. Some of these questions are a review of systems (ROS). If you went in for a cough, the doctor probably asked you whether you had any wheezing, troubles breathing, whether you had chills or sweats, runny nose or wheezing. There are review of symptoms questions for the nervous system, the cardiovascular system, the endocrine system, the gastrointestinal system and so forth. 

In our practice of medicine, we have developed a series of questions we call a spiritual review of systems. These questions ask about potential spiritual problems that may be contributing to or even causing your symptoms. The first question asks, “What personal problems are you experiencing in your life?” The questions address issues related to guilt, bitterness, loneliness, fear, addiction, and purpose. We believe these are not simply psychosocial issues, but spiritual ones. When we are out of order spiritually, our mind and bodies will be affected. 

Just as a physical ROS can unearth physical reasons for our symptoms, so the spiritual review of symptoms an unearth spiritual issues that are making us ill. For example, I examined a man who came in with a chief complaint of chest pain. His symptoms sounded like angina, which is caused by clogged arteries of the heart. I sent the patient for a stress test which was surprisingly normal. The patient later disclosed the true source of his chest pain: his wife was about to divorce him because of his ongoing anger problem. His chest pain started soon after the breakdown in their relationship. Once he apologized to his wife for his anger, and expressed a willingness work on this issue, his recurrent chest pain resolved! The cause of the man’s chest pain was principally spiritual in nature. 

Take a look at our spiritual ROS. If you’re a provider, try asking one or some of the questions at a visit with a patient the next time you’re faced with a diagnostic dilemma. Dr. Tournier, who inspired our review of symptoms, made his life’s work unearthing spiritual issues that were causing patient’s physical problems. We think the questions may be fruitful in helping patients get well. 

If you’re not a provider, and you’re experiencing some troubling symptoms, reflect on the questions. Consider if any of the issues they unearth may be contributing to what you’re experiencing. The goal in the process is to foster the spiritual or relational virtues we allude to on the spiritual ROS, and to foster wholeness and peace: with yourself, with others and with God.

To access the spiritual ROS, click HERE.

For the related spiritual virtues, click HERE.

To download a pdf of the above tools, click HERE.