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Working in Light of Eternity

August 10, 2021
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Throughout dental school, I have been actively seeking a rhythm of work and rest that honors the Lord, serves my patients and allows me to truly rest. This became of paramount importance to me because, if I’m honest, I knew this was something I had failed at for a large portion of my life. During college, I watched one of my roommates and best friends observe the Sabbath every Sunday. Blake would be running out the door with a picnic blanket and a football in her hand as I was cramming in last-minute studies for the week ahead. It was not that I never took breaks, but I could never bring myself to take off an entire day every week. Since elementary school, I had always strived for perfection in my work, so it was no big change for me in college to stay up late, wake up before the sun, incessantly check off to-do lists and barely enjoy the feeling of finishing one test before moving on to study for the next one. Looking back now, I realize how much of that striving was actually rooted in fear—fear that my future rested entirely in my own hands, fear that this is what was required for my life to be of value and, ultimately, fear that my ability to serve in the future was based entirely on my performance now.

The summer before dental school I worked as a camp counselor in Texas, and there the Lord challenged me in this entire way of thinking. Through His Word and through messages taught, as well as through other staff members, God spoke straight to my heart that I am not above the command to Sabbath, that I am not so powerful that my mistakes could somehow impinge on His will and plan for my life, and I am not so important that I cannot take a break. When camp ended, I visited Blake in Waco before moving home to Minnesota to start dental school. Sitting on top of a bridge over the Brazos River lit up by downtown Waco at night, I told her how the message of Sabbath came up repeatedly throughout the summer almost like God was shouting at me with a megaphone. I told her that after seeing her example in college and then personally experiencing a summer full of God’s faithfulness, I was ready to try Sabbath in dental school. Her response to me (in the most loving, best-friend kind of way) was, “Liz, Sabbath isn’t something you try, it’s something you do.”

I could go on and on about all the ways observing Sabbath in dental school bettered my life, deepened my relationships and showed me the Lord’s faithfulness to provide. Also, just two weeks after making this commitment and moving home to Minnesota, I met the man who is now my husband, and I finally had the margin in my life to foster a healthy relationship. However, as the months went on and our studying became more patient-based and clinically-focused, the same old fear started to creep back into my life, but this time, it felt like even more was on the line. Dental school affronted me with the reality that poor outcomes could directly impact people’s quality of life, and to prevent that, there was always more I could be doing: more studying, more learning, more practicing, etc. I started struggling with guilt when I rested, feeling like I was letting down my future patients by not using that time to better myself for them. Mind you, the other six days of the week I was pouring everything I had into school and oftentimes working from dawn until dusk. And yet, that one day I took off—that one day I chose to spend with the Lord, with community and with Kevin—became heavy-laden and guilt-ridden.

While the guilt I felt may have been driven by good intentions, the lie I was believing was that my patients needed me more than I needed the Lord. Ultimately now, I realize how much that fear is actually rooted in pride. While it may not feel like pride in the moment, the Savior-complex I developed at a young age (that unfortunately followed me into dental school) is not of the Lord, because the truth is, people don’t need me as much as I think they do. God is no less on the throne when I am resting than when I am working. God is no less sovereign, no less faithful and no less in control of the outcome.

I doubt this thought process is unique to only dental students, and my belief is that regardless of what point we reach in our careers, we will have to actively reflect on how we are spending our time and why. I believe with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we can reconcile Colossians 3:23-24 with Hebrews 4:9-11, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…” (NIV) yes, always. However, “There remains then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience” (NIV). With the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we can work and rest, both for the glory of the Lord. I do not believe Sabbath should be observed out of a spirit of legalism, and I believe making space for the Sabbath can look different in different seasons. However, regardless of the season, Sabbath is a time where we surrender our to-do lists, pause our obligations and put away our schedules. It is a time to rest in the Lord, to trust in His faithfulness to provide and fill our souls with the things that give us life.

While I am not saying to throw our cares to the wind and stop all efforts of improvement, I am urging dental professionals in all stages to keep work in its rightful place in light of eternity: to thoughtfully and intentionally put up the boundaries you need to worship, rest, love your family, spend time with community and be filled by the presence of our Savior King—our King who can part the waters, calm the sea and raise life from the dead. He is working on our behalf, and all He asks of us is that we trust Him. In doing this, we put the control over our lives back in its rightful place, and I believe we are actually prepared to serve our patients better. No one wants to see us have a better outcome more than the Lord, and it is only in Him that we will find the true rest our souls crave.

About Elizabeth Flaherty

Elizabeth Flaherty received her undergraduate degree in Biology from Baylor University in Waco, TX, then returned to her home state of MN to attend dental school at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry where she is currently a D4. Upon graduation in May of 2022, she will be serving soldiers and their families as a dental officer in the United States Air Force. In August 2020, she married the love of her life, Kevin, who will be alongside her in the Air Force adventure! Jesus changed her life and continues to mold and shape her into the person that he planned for her to be. She is living each day on a mission to share the hope that she has found in Him.

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