Living by faith
In my teens I underwent what people call a "conversion" experience. I had a concept of God as "an old man in the sky" who set impossible rules and then "zapped" you for breaking them. I was close to giving up on God. But then the love of God in Jesus, the good shepherd who "lay down his life for his sheep", was shown to me through the preaching of an evangelist.
Following that I went to medical school and, after serving as a medical missionary for a couple of years, trained as a psychiatrist, working as a consultant old age psychiatrist from 1981 to my retirement in 2005. I have a strong, continuing, personal commitment to Jesus Christ as the one who showed me the love of God. I seek to live my life according to values that are derived from the early verses of John's gospel where Jesus is described as "full of grace and truth" and as the one through whom "all things were created".
These values of grace, truth and creativity are what I believe I am called to live by as a disciple of Jesus. Not surprisingly, they work very well. In Christian terms grace is about God's relationship with us and our relationships with one another, truth is about seeking understanding and wisdom and creativity is about the fact that we are Christ's body on earth. We are ambassadors for Christ. I used to try to work with patients also according to these values, though I never sought to make their Christian origin explicit when talking to patients. Nevertheless, I put forming good relationships with patients first; understanding their problems, their situations and the evidence base for managing them second and working together to co-create and implement an effective plan to help make things better, third.
Though I have retired from clinical work, I still do some coaching, mentoring, management support and teaching work. Especially when teaching, I reiterate the values of good relationships, proper understanding of the patient's issues and situation, good knowledge of the evidence base and the necessity to work with patients, carers and others to co-create effective action.
I have never felt comfortable about praying with patients in an NHS context though I have had Christian patients who have prayed for me! I have also prayed for patients privately. Sometimes, when it became evident in a consultation that a patient had a lively Christian faith, I have briefly shared my faith with them, partly as a reassurance that I understood where they were "coming from". Sometimes Christian patients can be afraid that psychiatrists will not understand their personal commitment to Jesus and they may fear that it will be seen as a sign of lack of mental balance. Such patients are relieved to have a psychiatrist who understands and will work with their Christian beliefs. I keep quiet about my faith when working with patients who have not raised the matter; but, if challenged, I am always ready to give an account of what I believe and (more importantly) of whom I put my trust in.
The "church" to which I belong (Quakers) is not based on a creed but on each of us answering "that of God" in ourselves and in those we meet. We do not have a paid ministry, a hierarchy or sacraments (believing that all of life is sacramental). Our worship is silent unless someone present feels moved to speak by the Spirit. This speaking we call ministry. Quaker "testimonies" are about issues like speaking the truth in love, non-violence and honest dealing. Not all Quakers share my personal commitment to Jesus; but for me, that response to the love of God, revealed in Jesus, is central to my life.
John Wattis, 07/06/2007