September has begun and, with it, the fall. Sitting here in Staten Island, I am thinking of the seasons that have ended. I am able to ‘see’ the spring and summer seasons better than I could in the chaos of the recent past. The reason is a long-needed week away at a Christian retreat which Janet, our children and I attended. This post is about what I received through that retreat to bring to my battered city and country and to you.
When we went away for our retreat, there were frayed nerves everywhere. We were exhausted not just by the long hours of work over the previous six months fighting COVID-19, but also by the local impact of national politics and the charged social atmosphere. We were and still are in an increasingly fearful, uncertain and violently polarised world.
Over here, the US is reeling nationwide from an ongoing onslaught of COVID and is also wounded from a pivotal, vicious-toned presidential election. The pandemic has impacted the lead-up to the polls in direct and indirect ways, and has also exacerbated the ongoing simmering of uncertainty, anger and stress. If the media is to be believed, there is, sadly, no lack of people or circumstances who are to be blamed for the crisis.
There is also no lack of attempts to find a solution – be it a drug, a vaccine or experimental treatments and strategies. In other parts of the world, the situation is not much different. Faced with COVID, it seems everyone is trying hard to blame someone, find solutions, simply try and ignore what is happening, or – for some people – all of the above.
I say that this need not be so, that there is another, far better, way that God shows us. This is a lesson that was given to me in the shape of a memory – and like a gift – quite recently. Let me share what I mean.
We, as a family, had a challenging time this spring and summer. New York City, where Janet and I work at Beacon Christian Community Health Center, was the first epicentre of the pandemic in the United States. Beacon was one of the only outpatient centres which stayed open throughout the pandemic in our borough of Staten Island. Though we saw God do amazing things through our staff and community to help control the epidemic where we were, the city as a whole has slowly and painfully been in the process of coming out of it, and coming to grips with it.
In June, Janet and I spoke in an ICMDA webinar about Beacon’s leadership role locally, and the anger, bewilderment and upheaval our city was going through. We still see all these emotions every day at our community health centre, as people process what has just happened. We see those reactions, sadly, permeating the church around us as well. In the last few months here in New York City, the number of cases has been winding down, but the blame and the rhetoric demanding future remedial action has ramped up in volume.
So, the question that arises is: have we really learned anything from COVID-19? Or are we, as many around me have said, simply trying to ‘put it behind us’, ‘get back to normal’ and hide the physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual wounds we think we can bury, but which, in fact, drive us and our actions towards being more wounded down the road? Our family has pondered these and other questions both during our retreat and afterwards.
When we got away for a week in the mountains in upstate NY, it was the beginning of our family’s ‘recovery’ from our own wounds suffered through almost six months of nonstop activity fighting COVID at our health centre and in the hospitals. I, Janet, and our four children had been battered in various ways in this fight. In the peace and calm of the Adirondack Mountains, we began to revive as we rested physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally and spiritually.
Besides being in community with the few other families at this retreat centre, we also got to hear speakers who would normally be there with us, but were forced, due to COVID and traveling restrictions, to set up their talks for us to watch remotely. The speaker for our week, Alistair Begg, spoke on 1 Peter 5, and in particular, verses 6-11, which became our family’s rallying cry for the week:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:6-11)
‘Cast all your care on Him, for he cares for you.’ As we studied this passage during the week, these words, so often spoken or quoted, so often overlooked, made their way deep into my soul. I found myself thinking – do we remember that the God of the heavens actually cares personally about each and every one of us? Aren’t all of us, shaken and uprooted by this once-in-a-lifetime event, yearning ultimately to be loved and cared for? And yet here is God’s provision, right beneath our very noses. The reminder to cast my cares upon a caring God came as a refreshing jolt to me.
As our family read, processed, and even, at times, cried over the rest of this passage, it became clear to Janet and me that ‘he cares for you’ is at the crux, not only of how each of us personally can develop resiliency from what God has allowed to happen in this world, but also of how we as healthcare professionals who love Jesus Christ can be nourished in order to use our craft to be part of that healing – the physical, mental, emotional, relational and spiritual healing – of the world that God cares so much for.
Phew! How wonderful that God longs to, ‘after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle’ all of us! How amazing that he has called us in healthcare to be so intimately involved in that healing process with our patients and communities! This is what we do at Beacon, through our innovative whole-person, whole-community work based on the goal of simply ‘loving the next person that we meet’. This is what we are teaching our residents and students here in New York City, through Beacon’s centre-based teaching program, as they begin to process what they are learning at the very outset of their careers and callings, and build the resiliency (Lord willing) to ‘resist him (the devil), steadfast in the faith’.
This is how Janet and I believe God is encouraging and strengthening all of us, wherever in the world we are, to continue to ‘fight the good fight (2 Timothy 4:7). I am grateful to be reminded of this calling. We never stopped following it, but we had been tired at times.
The memory of this calling has been reinforced for me at the start of this new season. I take it as a precious gift. This, ultimately, is how we as Christians must put ‘care’ back into ‘healthcare’ – because we can cast all of our cares upon the one who most perfectly cares for us, and encourage others, through our practice of healthcare, to do the same.
May this be our personal peace and joy as we face a future which, while still unknown to us, is still completely under the control of our caring, all-knowing and all-perfect God. Hallelujah and Amen!
Dr David Kim is the CEO of Beacon Christian Community Health Center in Staten Island, New York.