I’ve mentioned this before: Heroes of the faith from times past pique my interest. Many of them endured great hardship, yet remained strong in their faith. From their examples and writings I find encouragement, challenge, and inspiration.
Today’s example: Paul Tournier.
Paul Tournier (1898-1986) was a well-known doctor, author, and Christian by the middle of the twentieth century. But it’s doubtful that those who knew him as a youngster would have predicted such an outcome.
His parents died when he was very young. Paul and his older sister were taken in by an aunt and uncle. The boy became withdrawn and shy, struggling with the issues of identity and self-worth.
Perhaps those difficult years of his youth prepared Paul for the lifework God would give him. He held a lifelong concern for those who suffered. When Paul was just twelve years old, he decided he’d become a doctor. That was also the year he became a Christian.
Paul achieved his boyhood dream, and started his medical practice in Geneva, Switzerland, 1928.
Nine years later, Paul was introduced to the Oxford Group, a new Christian movement. Paul was impressed by their life-changing commitment to Jesus, and he, too, was led into deep transforming faith.
As Dr. Tournier’s experience in medicine increased, so did his dissatisfaction with drugs and surgery as his only options to help patients. What about the interplay of mind and body? More importantly, how do spiritual matters impact physical well-being?
Paul sought ways to include psychology and faith into his medical practices, and called it, “the medicine of the whole person.” Surely part of that “medicine” was to contribute to his patients’ identity and self-worth, the same issues that had plagued him as a boy. Perhaps it was in analyzing how people discover purpose in life that brought Dr. Tournier to this conclusion:
“For the fulfillment of his purpose God needs more than priests, bishops, pastors, and missionaries. He needs mechanics and chemists, gardeners and street sweepers, dressmakers and cooks, tradesmen, physicians, philosophers, judges, and shorthand typists.” – from The Adventure of Living
As the focus of Dr. Tournier’s medical practice began to change, so did his routines. Patients were less frequently ushered into examining rooms, and instead, met with the doctor in the living room of his home. There they’d sit by the fire to talk, sometimes joined by Tournier’s wife, Nelly. His first book, The Healing of Persons (1940), grew out of these experiences.
Part of his genius, perhaps, was in listening. Here’s what he had to say on that topic:
“In order to really understand, we need to listen, not reply. We need to listen long and attentively. In order to help anybody to open his heart we have to give him time, asking only a few questions, as carefully as possible in order to help him better explain his experience.” –from To Understand Each Other
His medical practice grew into a ministry, including speaking engagements around the world, and many more books. The Meaning of Persons, published in 1957, received particular distinction. Christianity Today magazine named it one of the top 50 books to have influenced the Evangelical world. Dr. Tournier was also called the twentieth century’s most famous Christian physician.
On serving God, he had the following to say:
“I do not serve God only in the brief moments during which I am taking part in a religious service, or reading the Bible, or saying my prayers, or talking about him in some book I am writing, or discussing the meaning of life with a patient or friend. I serve him quite as much when I am giving a patient an injection, or lancing an abscess, or writing a prescription, or giving a piece of good advice. I serve him quite as much when reading the newspaper, traveling, laughing at a joke, or soldering a joint in an electric wire. I serve him by taking an interest in everything, because he is interested in everything, because he has created everything and has put me in his creation so that I may participate in it fully.” — from The Adventure of Living
I have to wonder if Dr. Tournier was thinking of Colossians 3:23-24 when he wrote that observation:
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
Years ago, as a young mother with three children, I wrote in the margin of my Bible next to those verses, “including housework!” I tried to visualize myself dusting and scrubbing and vacuuming for Jesus!
I am NOT fond of housework; Dr. Tournier probably did not enjoy lancing abscesses! But. There is strength and perseverance, purpose and fulfillment in knowing such tasks serve a purpose.
Even a divine purpose.
Countless people have undoubtedly been transformed by that principle and others, taught convincingly by Dr. Paul Tournier.
(Photo of Dr. Tournier from wikipedia.org.)