Monday over Coffee: A Shift in Perspective

Need a Word of Encouragement?

A Shift in Perspective

The book I recommend to people more than any other is one entitled, Being Mortal, written by a surgeon named Atul Gawande. While Gawande, as a doctor, recognizes the myriad of miracles modern medicine has produced in the world, his book focuses on the limitations doctors and patients must face when medicine collides with the inevitable realities of aging and death. Chapter after chapter, he examines the tensions involved in balancing risk and quality of life, of weighing life-extending treatments together with ultimate goals, and of living well and dying well. Even as he explores topics like the history of assisted living, the nature of hospice care, and our tendency to skirt around conversations about death, Gawande also writes confessionally about his own struggle navigating dual roles as a surgeon and as a son while his father was making his own end-of-life decisions.

Gawande is quite a writer — full of remarkable ideas and perspective-changing insight. Before Being Mortal, he wrote a book called, The Checklist Manifesto. In it, he notes that surgeons like himself avoid making mistakes in the operating room by using checklists. The book then broadens the application of a checklist and concerns more generally how professionals in a variety of complex fields in our complex world can dramatically reduce errors and vastly improve performance with routinized, detailed, and careful planning. 

While certainly no one would permit me in an operating room, Gawande’s emphasis on the use of checklists resonates with my experience. I’m definitely a list-maker myself and take great pleasure checking things off throughout the course of the day in advance of when they’re due. There’s a list for the month, a list for the week, and a list for the day. Around noon, the list is revamped to make sure the things that didn’t get done in the morning either get done in the afternoon or find a place on some subsequent list. As Dr. Gawande contends, lists prevent important things from falling through the cracks.

However, even with the efficiency such daily and weekly checklists put on offer, I’ve found sometimes in the name of ‘getting things done,’ the list can take over my life. That is to say, if my picture of a successful day all depends on whether I’ve checked off every item, I can very easily fail to be present to someone in need. If I get overly focused on clearing the hurdles and crossing the finish line, I might easily give short-shrift to something important that arises unexpectedly and needs more of my attention. Just as Dr. Gawande had to take up dual perspectives as a gifted and tenacious doctor and a loving and dutiful son, we too have to operate in several realms at once if we want to first follow Christ and secondly excel in the world, as I believe we’re called to do.

I’m trying to do better with all this — to change how I think of my daily checklist with this simple reframe: What if the Christian life is not so much about moving through my list with efficiency, but about the disruptions to it? To go a step further, what if I not only expected but leaned into the detours? What if, when disruption arises, I stop asking “How do I minimize this to get back on track?” 

What if my first thought isn’t “How do I manage my way through or out of it so I can quickly return to my preferred world of control, comfort, and well-being?” With this shift in perspective, what if I asked a series of different questions when disruption occurs. What if instead I asked God, “What are You doing in this moment? Who do You want me to meet in this detour? Is there something You want me to do here in the midst of this unexpected turn? What do You want to do inside me during this disruption?”

Look, we’ve just been through a major detour in our lives, and there’ll be others, but as we face them, consider shifting your perspective with regard to their inevitability. First of all, expect the disruption, then embrace the notion that we’re not here just to get things done, to check off boxes, or even to overcome and triumph over challenges. We’re here to provide the world with the possibility of an experiential knowledge of God wherever we are and whatever we’re doing.

God — 

Shift my perspective away from a mentality focused only on crossing the finish line. Amen.​

Greg Funderburk


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