Guest post: An Impossible Advent

In the spirit of living out Advent in the midst of the city, here is a guest post from Dr. Erin Sandilands.

Advent: This time of waiting for God to bust everything open. The pleasant anticipation of cute, harmless babies. Everyone loves babies.

And any parent can tell you that the arrival of a baby changes everything.

It’s been a while now since I’ve done any office family medicine. This year is all about the acute care. Same problems, different perspective. But I was thinking this morning about the number of times in a week that I ask people to do utterly ridiculous things.

Lose weight.
Quit smoking.
Stop drinking.
Exercise more.
Reduce stress.

Good and obvious things that few people disagree with in general. Healthy living is good. Like babies. (Aren’t they cute!? Oughtn’t they not stick their fingers in wall sockets!?)

And I suppose it is slightly less ridiculous/more possible to ask those enormous things in the context of a long-term relationship with someone who is coming to see me as a family doctor. And it seems less ridiculous to say these things at a moment of extreme change and upheaval – say, when someone learns they are pregnant, or right after a first major heart attack. But really, I am asking something no less bizarre/impossible than “leave everything behind and follow Jesus”.

Who really has the ability to do that? What right have I to even suggest such a radical new direction for a life that isn’t mine? To suggest that people upend their lives completely and go in a whole new direction?

The way that we eat and move is so deeply a part of who we are. It is really a re-imagining and a new start to a whole life to ask these things of people. I might throw in a comparison to “rebirth” here. Changing something so fundamental as food/activity/habits puts everything else at risk of changing too. Career, relationships, living situation – are all tied into the seemingly innocuous and unambiguously good plan to just “quit smoking” or “lose weight”. Quitting smoking/losing weight is good! Like babies are good! And it can turn your life as inside out as having a baby come into it. (I mean, there are differences. Obviously. You can gain back the weight. Babies can’t be returned)

And lots of folks avoid both clinics and the God people out of the belief that the only desire of medicine and religion is to control them/make them feel guilty about not doing “the thing”. That we are bad people if we smoke instead of pray. And that prayer and teetotalling are inherently miserable and unpleasant. I wish I could erase that particular myth. Because religion is FUN. It feels good. And being able to move, and breathe, and sleep also feels good. Really, no guilt, mostly pleasure. Come play!

Yes, it really might mean quitting your job, selling your car and house in the suburbs, divorcing your wife and grabbing your own health and life by the short and curlies and making something entirely new and terrifying. Maybe it will be easier than people think, owing to the skills gained from a stable childhood, or the resilience that comes from having lived through war or immigration…. or, I suppose, harder, maybe even for the same reasons.

And you are going to die anyway, whether you do it or not. And you might get killed by a drunk driver as you are biking to work. Your diabetes/liver failure/lung cancer may still kill you. But between here, and death, you have just one chance to be really alive. Why not take it? Why not inhabit this temporary body fully? Why not live well in this body, within loving relationships, in a community that grows goodness? In God’s world? It’s kinda awesome. It’s not perfect, but it’s its own reward really.*

And I know I don’t know much. Not about medicine, and certainly not about religion (though considering how much of both I do around here, I really wish sometimes that I weren’t so much of a generalist).

So, I turn things upside down, and see what falls out. I will invite more love and more children (and more religion) into my life. I will wait and see what surprises are in store. And I will continue to invite others to turn away from suffering and towards hope. As ridiculous as it is to think that a baby could change the world. Or that a 55 year old diabetic hypertensive smoker might lose 50 lbs. But I will just choose to act as if it’s possible.

Forbidden fruit?

* I remain suspicious of doctors who jog. I tend to trust fat doctors who smoke. And other atheists. Because I’m contrary like that.

Dr. Erin Sandilands is a friend of the Advent Chapel planning team. She is a family physician training in emergency medicine in Montreal.

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