CMDA's The Point

Faith and Gratitude

November 18, 2021
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by Autumn Dawn Galbreath, MD, MBA

As I continue my series on faith and culture, Thanksgiving is right around the corner. But believe it or not, I didn’t choose this topic because of its appropriateness for Thanksgiving week. The topic has been close at hand in my own life of late, which has made me even more aware of its cultural applications.

By way of background, I must admit that I struggle to ask anyone to do anything for me. Asking a friend down the street to give my daughter a ride home from school is difficult and makes me think about what I need to do to even the playing field.

“I have asked her for three rides home lately. I need to be sure to offer to pick up from art next week….”

That sort of thing.

I am guessing my fellow healthcare professionals can relate, since research shows that an overactive sense of responsibility is one of our defining characteristics. While feeling overly responsible can bring about some good things in patient care, including minimizing errors and staying up to date on the best treatment options, it is not a healthy way to live. The more responsible we feel, the more we take onto ourselves and the faster we surpass our personal limits—otherwise known as burnout. Living with an overactive sense of responsibility in our personal lives takes a toll, as well, creating distance from others as we strive to be completely independent.

People were simply not created to live in total independence. The sense of responsibility and independence that comes so naturally to us in healthcare cuts us off from the interdependence of community. And we were created for community—first with God and then with others. We were created to depend on others, while also allowing others to depend on us. Of course, there are appropriate boundaries for dependence in relationships, but that is not the goal of this post. Most healthcare professionals don’t need to be counseled on respecting other people’s boundaries; instead, we need the opposite—to give ourselves permission to have needs, and for those needs to be met by others.

Life has recently presented me with a Huge Need, one that is impossible for me to meet independently. One that has forced me to ask others for help. In fact, I have had to ask several people close to me for a Huge Gift to meet that Huge Need. For a gal who can’t ask for a ride home, a Huge Request is pretty rough! But I had no choice. So, after weeks and weeks of agonized drafts, I finally sent the Huge Email to my family members. It dedicated as much time to disclaimer as it did to explanation.

“Don’t feel obligated…You should not do this if you are not comfortable…Please don’t hesitate to say ‘no’….”

I braced myself for a long wait while people searched their souls to see if this was a Gift they could consider giving. I prepared to be told “no” and to have to seek out a different solution. I reminded myself over and over that I had not had a choice. This Huge Request was not a failure of responsibility; instead, it was a necessity in my life.

Moments after I sent the Huge Email, the Huge Answers began to arrive.

“Of course!…It’s not even a question…It’s a privilege to be able to help you…We want to help….”

Even with those answers, that inner voice still struggled to relax into this Huge Generosity. I was compelled to remind people that they weren’t obligated, that I could find a different solution, that I would be fine if they decided this Gift was too big.

It has been over a month now since the Huge Request, and God has slowly but surely begun to show me that my insistence on independence reflects a deep lack of gratitude. If I never accept a gift, or do so reluctantly, I never have the opportunity to depend on God and others and to be grateful to them. And what is “giving thanks” but a mere formality if it is superficial and lacking in that deep dependence?

As we approach Thanksgiving, a time when our country sits down at the table (and in front of televised football) to relax and give thanks, I wonder how many of us are giving thanks from that superficial place.

“Lord, we thank you for this home {that we work hard to pay for}, for our loved ones {with whom we are more often frustrated than grateful}, for this food {that we battled grocery store crowds to obtain}, for our abilities {that we spent years in school to hone}….”

Of course, we don’t say these things, but if we are deeply honest, we often feel them. It is only when confronted with a Huge Need we are simply unable to meet that we realize every single thing we work for or accomplish and every single relationship that blesses us is ultimately a gift. Ultimately, it is only through God’s provision of intellect, health and even life that we can accomplish anything.

During 2021, I have reflected on aspects of faith and culture that have disappointed or challenged me. And this is no exception. As we struggle with the very real losses of COVID, how often have we intentionally acknowledged our gratitude for the things it has left us with? Things like family, health, solitude, relationship with God, time to regroup and reorganize our lives. These are all things we take for granted, and things from which the usual pace of life distracts us. And yet, they are Huge Gifts for which we should be grateful.

What about disappointment with elected officials or election outcomes? Do we grumble and complain, or even react out of fear, preparing ourselves for the worst when our “enemies” take power? Or do we take the time for gratitude that God is sovereign and bigger than earthly powers? Gratitude that we live in a country where there will be another election in two or four years, and we will again have the chance to express our convictions about the future of our country? Gratitude that our country has checks and balances that prevent one person from changing too many things at once? These are Huge Gifts, and yet, we almost never think about gratitude when we “lose” politically. We only think to be grateful when we “win.”

As you prepare for a Thanksgiving celebration next week, I challenge you to truly give thanks, with a gratitude that comes from a recognition of your own limits. Gratitude that acknowledges the difficulties and brokenness of the world around you, but gratitude that seeks the Greater Gifts that lie beneath. Gratitude that is reflective of dependence on God and others, as we live in and give thanks for the community that surrounds us.

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:15-17, NIV).

Autumn Dawn Galbreath, MD, MBA

About Autumn Dawn Galbreath, MD, MBA

Autumn Dawn Eudaly Galbreath, MD, MBA is an internist in San Antonio, Texas, where she lives with her husband, David, and their three children. Though they met in medical school, David now owns a restaurant in the San Antonio area. Between the two of them, they have experienced multiple career transitions, and weathered the resultant stresses on their marriage and family. Autumn Dawn speaks to the issues of Christian marriage, being a working mother in the church, and being a woman in medicine with an engaging humor that brings perspective to these difficult issues. Autumn Dawn earned her MD from the University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio, where she also completed her internal medicine residency. She earned her MBA from Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama.

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