Saturday, September 27, 2014

Guest Post! "Be Confident, Small Immortals" by CoptRx

I've been in touch with anonymous blogger CoptRx at and she's graciously written an awesome guest post about how medical school taught her the godly meaning of confidence.  Stop by her page and enjoy the read!

Confidence. It's a trait that I've come to realize you cannot really survive medical school without.

Is confidence a "spiritual" virtue? Is it a quality that we as Copts should actively be seeking as we would the Fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc)? Is possessing self- confidence essential to our salvation, or the salvation of those around us? Or is it much the opposite - should we be wary of an excess of self-confidence leading us astray into pride, arrogance, and contempt for others?

When I began medical school, I was under the naive, false, and somewhat arrogant impression that, having attended one of the highest-ranked undergraduate universities in the country, I had somehow garnered a superior education. Entering medical school was like a slap in the face. Not only did I realize that I had basically learned nothing of real value in college, I also realized that I was surrounded by extremely intelligent peers who were at the same time, on the whole, quite humble. I was myself humbled by this realization, as I was also by my own shameful lack of knowledge of many things, both about medicine and also about how to be a basically decent sort of human being who could perhaps be an asset to society.

Medical school is humbling in many ways. There are SO MANY things to know about the beautiful and complex human body that God created - it is impossible to know them all. You're never "done studying" for an exam in medical school - there's always so much more to learn, and when you realize this, you are painfully aware of your own ignorance in so many dimensions. It's never fun being pimped by an attending in the hospital, especially when you have no clue what nerve innervates the gracilis muscle and have to admit as much in front of your peers. It was a rough start at the beginning of first year, realizing that what I passed off as my own "intelligence" didn't amount to much since the fact of the matter was I didn't really know anything about anything.

But that's life. That's medical school. And I'm glad (well, if not "glad" exactly, then at least "grateful") that I was beaten down, humbled, embarrassed, slapped around a bit, because once I became aware of my own enormous limitations and weaknesses, not just as a medical student but also as a friend, sister, daughter, and Copt, then somehow, paradoxically, miraculously, for the first time in my life really, I began to be confident in myself. Because I stopped trying to find any kind of justification for my own existence within myself, and started finding my inner strength from my Creator who granted my existence in the first place.

This brings me back to my original question - is confidence a "spiritual" virtue? This is probably a question better answered by one older and wiser than I. But I know that though an army encamps against me, I will not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. I am confident that God made me as I am, that I am a sinful human being whom He will forgive when I pick myself up. Confident that I died and arose with Christ, confident that the Lord is my shield and will guide me in all my paths. Confident that what blessings I have, they have been given to me by Christ so that I may do good for others. Confident that my strength comes from the unshakable fortress that is Christ.

Do you see here that what I mean by "confidence" has nothing at all to do with "arrogance" or "cockiness?" On the contrary, when you are confident, it really displaces arrogance. Arrogance is not a manifestation of extreme confidence - it's not that self-confidence is somehow a graded scale sandwiched between humility at one extreme and arrogance at the other. Quite the opposite - I believe that arrogance is rather a shameful way of hiding the fact that one does not possess any self-confidence at all. One of my good friends has complete, 100% confidence in himself, and yet possesses not an ounce of arrogance; he is humbly aware of his own faults, and I have never witnessed him judge another human being in the time I have known him. This is the confidence I would like to have, one day, as an attending. The sort of confidence that allows room for prayer that God steadies my hand when I operate on a patient. The sort of confidence that obviates the need to beat down the residents and medical students working under me. Confidence is not pride. Confidence is as I have described above. Pride is "always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you." (C.S. Lewis).

*The title of this post, "Be Confident, Small Immortals," is a quote from Perelandra by C.S. Lewis, "Be confident small immortals.  You are not the only voice that all things utter, nor is there eternal silence in the places where you cannot come."

Monday, September 15, 2014

You are responsible for everything. - Dostoevsky

Last year I read The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky and one of the lines in it has stuck with me ever since: "There is only one salvation for you: take yourself up, and make yourself responsible for all the sins of men. For indeed it is so, my friend, and the moment you make yourself sincerely responsible for everything and everyone, you will see at once that it is really so, that it is you who are guilty on behalf of all and for all."

I was reminded of it once again today, when a friend of mine was telling me about a lot of bad decisions she's made. It saddened me to hear it, but when I prayed for her after, I realized that perhaps God intended this as a wake up call for me. Perhaps my sinful thoughts are worse than her sinful deeds. Perhaps I am adding to the spiritual pollution we all breathe in every moment much more than her and all the people in her past combined.

Then I thought of a practical way of implementing this radical but real worldview Dostoevsky paints for us. What if every time I sin, I cause another to sin? Perhaps too often I focus on trying to convince myself that it is bad for me and bad for my relationship with God, and forget that my sin doesn't even have to be about me. We are all choking and gasping for breath in this dark grey air of pollution, and the moment I have a breath to spare, I use it on sin, and add once more to the pollution.

I think Dostoevsky would agree.  Every time I sin, whether in deed or in thought or in lack of deed or lack of thought, I cause another to sin.
Some more quotes from The Brothers Karamazov:

Fyodor Pavlovitch was drunk when he heard of his wife's death, and the story is that he ran out into the street and began shouting with joy, raising his hands to Heaven: "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace," but others say he wept without restraint like a little child, so much so that people were sorry for him, in spite of the repulsion he inspired. It is quite possible that both versions were true, that he rejoiced at his release, and at the same time wept for her who released him. As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naive and simple-hearted than we suppose. And we ourselves are, too.

It is true, perhaps, that this instrument which had stood the test of a thousand years for the moral regeneration of a man from slavery to freedom and to moral perfectibility may be a two-edged weapon and it may lead some not to humility and complete self-control but to the most Satanic pride, that is, to bondage and not to freedom. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offence, isn't it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill- he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offence, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness. Love is such a priceless treasure that you can redeem the whole world by it, and expiate not only your own sins but the sins of others.

for love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.

And secondly, the stupider one is, the closer one is to reality. The stupider one is, the clearer one is. Stupidity is brief and artless, while intelligence wriggles and hides itself. Intelligence is a knave, but stupidity is honest and straightforward.

Choosing “bread,” Thou wouldst have satisfied the universal and everlasting craving of humanity—to find some one to worship. So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find some one to worship.

God is not in strength but in truth.

Remember, too, every day, and whenever you can, repeat to yourself, “Lord, have mercy on all who appear before Thee to-day.” For every hour and every moment thousands of men leave life on this earth, and their souls appear before God. And how many of them depart in solitude, unknown, sad, dejected that no one mourns for them or even knows whether they have lived or not! And behold, from the other end of the earth perhaps, your prayer for their rest will rise up to God though you knew them not nor they you.

Love the animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble it, don't harass them, don't deprive them of their happiness, don't work against God's intent. Man, do not pride yourself on superiority to the animals; they are without sin, and you, with your greatness, defile the earth by your appearance on it, and leave the traces of your foulness after you—alas, it is true of almost every one of us! At some thoughts one stands perplexed, especially at the sight of men's sin, and wonders whether one should use force or humble love. Always decide to use humble love. If you resolve on that once for all, you may subdue the whole world. Loving humility is marvelously strong, the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.

“There are moments when people love crime,” said Alyosha thoughtfully.
“Yes, yes! You have uttered my thought; they love crime, every one loves crime, they love it always, not at some ‘moments.’ You know, it's as though people have made an agreement to lie about it and have lied about it ever since. They all declare that they hate evil, but secretly they all love it.”

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

First Day of School Joy

Today is the first day of the fall semester.  The day got off to a seemingly bad start for me, but I've come to realize that it is not the case that life is difficult and devoid of joy, but rather that the joy is right in front of me but my self pity keeps me from seeing it.  When I let go of trying to use my mind to rationalize things and let God show me the answers, a sea of clarity floods my mind.  So I decided to start this day with joy rather than my first world problems.  If the joys in life were self evident, life would be boring.  I'm thankful God forces us to dig deeper and look beyond the small inconveniences.  The grander picture is so much more beautiful and astounding that way.

I slept horribly last night, but I am thankful that I have a bed to sleep on, and that I don't have any morning classes.  I'm thankful I have the opportunity to sleep at night, rather than having to work a late night shift to support myself or my family.  I'm thankful I slept horribly for no particular reason, rather than having some horrible thing to be worried about, like a relative in critical condition in the hospital, or having to be on call 24 hours to take care of someone, or myself being hurt in the hospital, or someone breaking into my apartment, or being frazzled from someone trying to mug or rape me on my walk home last night, or having a recent heartbreak or death in my life causing me numerous sleepless nights.

I got up at 6:30am to go to the gym, and the gym opened a half an hour late.  Me and 20 other people's schedules and plans for the day were derailed because some guy didn't wake up early enough for his job.  But I am thankful that I have a gym to go to, that I have health that permits me to do the exercises that I do, that I have such a good outlet and healthy way to start the day, and that it was actually a pleasant reminder that I'm not the only one in the world who screws up and inconveniences people.

I left the gym in a fabulous mood.  I smiled the whole walk back home and smiled at everyone I passed.  I like having a random huge smile on my face, because then people wonder what I'm thinking about.  It startled most of them, but it was such a joy looking these people in the eyes and having them smile back, acknowledging and appreciating one another's existence rather than passing each other by as quickly as possible and pretending we don't realize there is another human being next to us with a life and mind and soul and desires and hopes and feelings just like ourselves.

I got ready for the day, and as I was making breakfast, I spilled coconut oil all over my favorite dress.  I'm thankful I have the opportunity to make a healthy breakfast, that I have the luxury of coconut oil, and that I have a cute favorite dress, that the weather permits me to wear this dress, that I have running water readily available with which I could clean and hopefully salvage my dress, that I'm a female philosophy major and therefore the majority of my classmates and professors are male who will check me out and appreciate how good I look and drool over the fact that there is a rare female specimen in their philosophy classes.  I'm also thankful that I get to fantasize about the look of awe that will appear in their faces when I say something intelligent in class.

I started frying eggs, and realized neither of my roommates nor I brought a spatula.  But one of my roommates had this flat wooden spoon thing and I was able to improvise.  I'm thankful that this was an opportunity to appreciate the small things in life.  I've never longed for spatulas before the way I did this morning.  My point of view on spatulas has been permanently altered.  Frying eggs is from now on a sublime experience.  I'm also thankful I got to improvise.

I then started frying bacon and the fire alarm went off.  I started fanning it like a maniac, but that wasn't working.  Then I saw that it actually has a silence button.  I'm thankful that I have a fire alarm to protect me, that this one has a silence button, that I have a sturdy chair to put right under it in case of future similar circumstances that will no doubt occur, and that I got to show some people in my apartment complex that yeah I'm that a boss, waking up early and making breakfast and getting to set off the fire alarm while you're probably still sleeping.

Now my breakfast is sitting cold, since I decided to write this blog post before touching it.  I'm thankful that I'm a pro at making delicious breakfast sandwiches, that I have food to eat, and that I have a blog to write on, and that I have some people willing to read the entirety of my ridiculous thoughts.  (Subscribe on the right to get an email when I post, once ever 1-2 weeks.  If you do, you will forever be engraved in my heart.)

I wonder what other inconveniences and hidden joys the rest of the day has to offer.  Maybe one of my classmates will have horrible BO.  Glory to God for all things!  Have a wonderfully joyful day everyone!