Prayer At Work, My Story

When I interviewed for my first job after residency, I was quizzed very pointedly about my religious proclivities. There was a prominent prayer before the meals (interviews took part in two stages and involved several days of activities) asking for God’s direction on whether or not to hire me. At one point, I was asked to say a blessing for everyone. This did not bother me particularly at the time. I just wanted a job.

I was raised in a “Christian” home growing up and had my theology down pat. I felt fairly at home in this kind of environment and knew I could “properly” answer any question they posed. Except for one thing: What my role was as a Christian woman who was working full time as a physician.

Growing up I was taught that as a female I was not as loved by God as much as a man. It was intended that I should marry, have lots of children, and be subject to my husband.

The problem with this was that I did not feel God wanted me to have children. Instead, I had been given this very intense dream…a passion for medicine. I knew this was what I was supposed to do.

The Saturday before starting med school, I eloped. I told my parents the day before which created a HUGE broo-ha-ha. I should not get married if I was going to medical school. In fact, as my own mother put it, if I loved my soon to be husband I should not start classes. If I didn’t drop out, I didn’t really love him and we should not be getting married. Being a physician would put me in a position of power over a man and that was just not Biblical as far as they were concerned. My mother made it very clear that if I ever had children I should not come around asking her for help with them when I was doing something so evil as medical school.

So for years I had carried this baggage around with me. I asked pastors, teachers, other Christian women…NO ONE could give me a reasonable answer to my questions. Why would God call me to medicine if this was so sinful?!?!!!

So, during the final interview for this job, my husband and I were eating dinner with the whole entire group of physicians when two of the female physicians started talking about their own struggles with this very same issue and we talked for hours about it. I finally found peace.

I knew this was where I had to be.

But that is not the end of the story.

Later, as I was starting my job there, I discovered that the group had posted signs everywhere telling patients that they could ask their doctor to pray for them if desired. I was uncomfortable with this. Not because it was something that I felt was wrong necessarily, but because praying out loud in front of people was not something I was good at doing. Faith had always been a relatively private thing for me. Still, patients would ask and I would awkwardly do my duty.

Each and every group meeting and staff meeting was opened in prayer. I liked this. It made me feel closer to God on some level, like I was involved in something special for him.

When I would meet a new patient, their first question to me was, “Where do you attend church?” Somehow, it mattered deeply to them which denomination I belonged to and which church I attended. Telling them that I had not yet found one that was a good fit was OK for the first couple of months, but eventually people started getting pushy, including the other physicians.

I could not say, “Look, I don’t want to attend a church that just spent $180,000 on restoring an old pipe organ when there are people suffering in this community from lack of food and medical care. And I am not going to attend First Baptist simply because it is where the most prominent citizens attend.” I was an observer to the “My church is better than all of the other churches” phenomenon. Apparently snagging a physician for your congregation was a significant achievement.

Eventually, the religiosity started to take a negative turn. The self proclaimed group leader would say we were under attack from Satan’s element when someone disagreed with him, as of he were God’s appointed prophet for the group and his decisions were the only ones that could possibly be divinely inspired.

One of the women who had spent time during the interview talking about professional women and faith ended up having an affair with another physician’s husband. The woman whose husband had been unfaithful was told she needed to “forgive and forget” this ongoing affair that had already lasted a number of years right under her nose.  When it was clear that the perpetrator was not going to be moved, the slighted woman asked for a transfer herself but told she would not be given the opportunity of changing offices. Her own mental health deteriorated as she was forced to face the other woman day after day. Those in the power to protect her failed to do so as they mandated their own warped definition of forgiveness.

Then, one day the lawyers from the BIG office had to come down and chastise everyone because apparently certain members of the group were discussing the religious preferences of an interviewee over company email, apparently not wanting to hire her because she did not share their Christian faith. She was not a good candidate for a multitude of reasons, religion never had to brought into it. But it was.

It became clear that something that should have been beautiful, was being used to manipulate the masses.

Eventually, I had enough. I met with the group leader and asked him a series of very pointed questions. The look of pure hate I received from him cinched it. I had to leave.

Now that I am more or less in charge of my own clinic, we do not pray at staff meetings. I struggled for a time about this. Am I selling out? But here is my philosophy:

God is not swayed by showy attempts at “honoring” him. That was the whole point with the Pharisees and their prayers in the temple. Further, he is not an ATM that I punch in a request in to and wait for a withdrawal. I cannot sway him by fasting and trying to be “good-er” than everyone else.  Grace is a level playing field.

I am called to live with compassion and love, extending grace to everyone, especially those of other faiths. My job as a physician is not to proselytize. It is to help heal. I pray silently for all of my patients, just as I always have. I will still pray aloud with a patient if requested, yet I don’t advertise that fact.

Because?

In the end, belief cannot and should not be mandated or it is empty and dangerous.

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26 thoughts on “Prayer At Work, My Story

  1. Thanks for this. I feel similarly about religion. I’m not practicing any religion now, but respect people’s beliefs, as long as they don’t try to impose it on others. I don’t believe that most organized religions in the US really work or help people, except in showy ways, and in ways that benefit them more than the people they help. Sure, some churches do a lot of good for people, but it always seems limited and conditional, which doesn’t seem to make sense to me, because the god they profess to love and follow so loudly loves people unconditionally. And sometimes the most god-like people who love people unconditionally and have compassion for people are the ones who don’t take part in any organized religion. Or if they do have a religion, they don’t have to be so loud about it.

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  2. Hmm. This is an intriguing post. I was raised in very religious home but from a very early age not a lick of it made any sense to me.I asked questions. A lot. And of course reason and logic were not to be found in the doctrine. No suitable answers were to be found. I spent many years at odds with my family and community because I just could not accept what people, especially those I found lacking in intellect, were telling me about how the world works through the interpretation of the bible. Not one little bit of it made any sense. I was of course infected by demons but what are you gonna do? Right? But once I left that community and my family my life was much more peaceful. I now know people who have a faith and are wonderful. It’s just not for me. And I’m so grateful I live in a country where we can all, more or less, exist in peace. Another great post.

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    • Thank you!

      I have held onto this quote for some time and I still intend to use it for a blog, but it is so apropos here:

      “Doubt is part of all religion. All the religious thinkers were doubters.” – Isaac Bashevis Singer

      I am sorry that Christianity is so full of small minded, insecure people that the genuine ones get lost in the smoke screen. There is truth there but you have to fight hard to find it, and that is the tragedy.

      So much more to say about that, but I will save it for another post…

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  3. Your last paragraph and sentence summarized my own thoughts so well! I occassionallly ( when I am not on call) attend a nondenominational church) and I only speak of spiritual matters if a patient asks me first. An older, and very kind nurse I work with will sometimes ask patients if they are Christians and it makes me cringe that she does it.
    Internal tensions among our group as a whole leave me lacking in courage to address my opinion to her. It is not our place as nurses to make any comment inferring what a patient should believe. To quote the hardest nursing instructor I had in school, ” You never have conversations with patients about sex, politics, or religon.” That teacher scared the heck out of me, but she taught me well. And she was right.

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  4. It sounds so surreal to me…Truly sorry you had go through this nightmare… God wants all his children to be happy and enjoy their lives. Everybody are entitled to His blessings: the Sun is shining for all the people and creatures. These so called “prayers” are hypocritical in their core.

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  5. I have long had a problem with many — NOT all — religious people. I am wary of so many people who believe they are better than I am, or that they will love, love, love it when the second coming happens and they can watch as the lesser mortals will be tortured and sent to hell.

    When I saw you had followed me, I investigated your blog. And I found a person I believe is a true Christian – who follows the New Testament not the Old as so many do.

    This post confirms for me my incredibly good instincts ;).

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  6. I’m so sorry that you had to go through all that, and I am so glad that you made the decision that you can live with, because that’s the only decision that will make God happy. He’s your father, and likes it best when all His children are smiling. I’ve been a Christian for over 40 years, I haven’t attended a church on a regular basis for over 20. Like you, my faith is a private thing between myself and God, and like yourself, I regret every day that there are so many of those that I call “Sunday Christians”, that the world can no longer find a real Christian to draw their examples from. Just as the Muslims of the world are at this very moment all been painted evil due to the actions of a very small percentage of their population who are extremists and terrorists, so has Christianity suffered a terrible blackeye as a result of the so called believers whose only belief is in the fact that they are holier-than-thou. Hopefully the world will one day soon learn again the wisdom of the simple words, “Moderation in all things”.

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      • You are absolutely correct, and I should never have made that slip, but it is a great illustration of how even the minor irritation I was feeling at your described predicament can make it so hard to keep that commandment foremost in our thoughts. Where there is anger, love gets forgotten. I think I prefer living in love and forgetting the anger whenever possible. 🙂

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  7. Faith is an intensely private subject to me, one I prefer to live than discuss. I have a strong spiritual life, though I ascribe to no particular church. I am a Christian, but my God loves Muslims, Hindi, Buddhist, and beings of all other beliefs and philosophies. No one has “the secret.” I am no more comfortable baring my soul than I would my body in public. I am responsible for myself and those placed in my path.

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  8. I am sorry that such a personal topic would ever be discussed when deciding whether or not to hire you or anyone. I worked in a Seventh Day Adventist hospital for many years very happily and my being Catholic was never an issue. I have worked in a public health clinic where I worked with a physician who prayed aloud with all of his patients and I was very touched by this. But I am not comfortable praying aloud with folks.
    I am curious about patients who would ask you where you go to Church. I do have patients now and then ask me if I am Christian ( for some reason it makes a cringe a bit when I am asked that), but I don’t remember anyone asking me where I attended Church. I think I would just say “why do you ask?”

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    • I think it being a small town and being ten years ago there was a certain prestige to be won if you had a doctor on the roster? Some were very pushy. The other issue is probably that this group was very well known in the community for their Christianity. That attracts a certain type of patient.

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  9. I am a seven-year survivor: I was in the seminary for 7 years. Your posting is beautifully done. Like love, I believe in prayer. So the replies have encouraged me and strengthened me as I move along. I now belong to the Church of Hopeful Uncertainty. You may have heard of it. Prayer is like wearing a copper bracelet or scapular medal: it cannot hurt.

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