Born in Missouri, Dr. Deborah Craton grew up in Bedford, Indiana, and was in the last graduating class of the old Bedford High School. She did her undergraduate work at David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University) in Nashville, Tennessee, and received her M.D. degree from Indiana University Medical School in Indianapolis. After fulfilling a residency program in Gadsden, Alabama, she and her family moved back to Bedford, where she has practiced family medicine since 1984. She married John Craton, a classical music composer, in 1978, and they have been married now for 40 years. Together they have three grown sons, two daughters-in-law, several cats, and a number of grandcats.”
For over twenty years I had the privilege and the pleasure to bring new life into the world. As a family doctor, I delivered more than 1,200 babies! What a miracle! I watched as a new mother-to-be came to my office regularly for eight months, and I witnessed the new life within her develop and grow. Finally, after 40 weeks I also assisted the mother with the delivery of the newborn baby. I watched the descent of the child through the birth canal; watched the head as it crowned; brought the baby out into my waiting arms; cut the cord and handed the new life to mother. Indeed, what a miracle! What hope!
I have also been privileged to watch two other types of birth during my lifetime:
I’ve been present when an individual, when convicted by the Word of God, accepted and obeyed and became a new creature in Christ. Again, a child is born of water and of Blood to begin a new life in Christ – to grow, mature, learn, and obey. What a miracle! What hope!
Finally, I have, as a physician, witnessed on numerous occasions the final birth – the passing through the gateway to an eternal new life. It has been a privilege to be present during a patient’s final moments in this earthly life and to see their comfort and peace as they pass to this new life where there is no more sickness, no sorrow, no death. What a miracle! What hope!
All three of these births, this new life, should bring rejoicing. Both St. Augustine of Hippo and C.S. Lewis understood that we, as God’s creatures, long for a new life. St. Augustine stated, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in Thee.” Lewis put the same idea a little differently in his book Mere Christianity where he wrote, “Desire that no earthly experience can satisfy probably means I was made for another world.”
We are made in God’s image from the womb. From the moment of conception, we are knitted together by God’s hand, and at birth, He gives us the breath of life. We put on Christ as we confess Him as our Lord and Savior and are born again of water and of Blood. Our new life allows Christ to shine through us, permitting others to see Him so that they too can have a new life. We should look forward to our new life with a glorified body that is changed in the twinkling of an eye to one that is incorruptible. In this final new life, we, at last, are able to meet Him face to face.
New life! What a miracle! What hope!
In the more recent years of my medical practice, one of the things I have noticed most is the increase in patient complaints of feeling depressed, anxious, and stressed out. Most disconcerting is the number of young adults who are expressing these complaints. When asked what they mean by being “depressed and stressed out,” they typically reply by saying, “I’m just not happy.” As a physician, I am well aware that there is such a thing as clinical depression. The neurotransmitters in the brain can be depleted, and the result becomes a deep feeling of overwhelming sadness and lethargy that can only be corrected by medication. True clinical depression is real and, when present, needs to be addressed and treated. But often simply being “not happy” is quite different from depression. What most people are experiencing when they say that are just not happy is, in reality, a lack of joy in their lives.
Far too often these days we not only confuse unhappiness with depression, but we also confuse happiness with joy. In reality, happiness and joy are (or can be) quite different. The word happy is derived from the Middle English word hap, which had to do with “luck” (we see this sense still in the word happenstance – something that just “happens”). Happiness, then, results from something external, something outside ourselves that acts on our sense of well-being. In today’s world, people are seeking happiness by attempting to fill their lives with things, events, or other people – externals – believing that by adding these things to their lives they will then be fulfilled and know happiness. But external things, events, and people inevitably let us down, and we never seem to achieve or maintain any significant degree of happiness in our lives.
Unlike happiness, however, joy comes not from external sources but from within – but not, as many modern-day pop-psychologists suggest, from ourselves per se, but from a source higher than ourselves residing within us. Joy comes from allowing Christ in our lives. Christ is both the beginning and end of our joy. As Fr. Alexander Schmemann put it, the Gospel begins with joy as the angels announced Christ’s birth (Luke 2:10), and it ends with joy as the apostles worship Him with joy after the Ascension into heaven (Luke 24:52). We were created for this joy. As Augustine of Hippo famously said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” When we rest in God, joy, and contentment can be found even when happiness is difficult or nonexistent.
The Apostle Paul stated in Philippians 4:10-13 that even during terrible situations he had learned to be content because Christ gave him strength. In an ever-changing world that calls us to find the next thing to bring us happiness, we need to look instead to God for that which gives us joy. As Psalm 16:5-11 tells us, He is steadfast, unchanging, and ever-present. Yes, there are times when a physician is needed to treat depression. Medication is sometimes needed to help climb out of the deep, dark hole. Seratonin and Dopamine can help restore the chemical balance in the brain again and relieve this kind of depression. But it is the Great Physician who can restore contentment and joy in everyone’s life. It is the Great Physician who provides a balm to our souls.
The world today would have us believe that love and sex are the same things. It tells us that because the two are equivalent when the sexual relationship begins to diminish over time love is dying. But years of medical practice – spent especially taking care of elderly patients – has taught me something quite different. My patients have shown me that our relationships change a lot over time, just as a caterpillar changes into a butterfly or as a small child changes into a mature adult. And while both love and sex within marriage are intricately intertwined, they go through various stages in the course of a relationship, both metamorphosing and maturing in the process.
God ordained the union of two people and gave us the gift of sex as one of the seals of that union in order to help the couple become one in a most intimate and profound way. Although many people today see sex as something merely to bring pleasure to a relationship, it also helps to signify the coming together of the two becoming one flesh.
When two people initially meet and begin the process of “falling in love” (my husband has always preferred the phrase “growing in love”), the physical aspect of the relationship generally begins with touching – holding hands, hugging, kissing. It is during this time that each partner is beginning to learn about the other … their wants, their needs, their dreams. At this stage, it is all lollipops, rainbows, and fireworks.
As they each grow in their knowledge of the other’s hopes and dreams, and as they find that they share many mutual goals, a marriage soon takes place. And within the context of this new relationship, they grow in another way, through the sharing of the gift of sex. In this, they find great pleasure, but they also find that in addition to being pleasurable it helps them come together on a more spiritual level as well, truly becoming one in mind, body, and spirit. (It is not an accident that Scripture often speaks of the sex act as “knowing” someone.) In these early days of the marriage, sex is not only exciting but becomes a joy that celebrates the expression of deep love and of the oneness that has been obtained.
Later on, should the couple be so blessed, children come from this sexual union and from the mutual love that has been cultivated in the marriage. But soon after, the couple begins to notice a significant change in their “oneness.” The sharing of sexual intimacy now begins to shift to the background: She’s too tired from working all day, keeping the house, and taking care of the children; he’s too stressed from making sure he is providing for his family. The two look at each other and notice that they have changed … physically and emotionally. There just no longer seems to be the spark that was once there, no time or energy to be alone together to rekindle that passion they’d known in the earlier days.
And they begin to wonder: “Is love gone? Has our love died?”
No! Love is not dead; it has matured. Like all other aspects of life, love matures.
As the children grow and leave the home, the couple may again find the physical union that was once achieved through sexual intimacy. And even though it may be that because of health issues, intimacy has changed to softer, less lustful physicality – holding hands, cuddling, kissing, being together, caring for each other’s needs – it is still there, very much alive.
Love is like a fire. It begins as a few sparks and then suddenly bursts into flame. It burns brightly and hot, but gradually it settles down to a warm glow. It can still be a flame from time to time, but it becomes eventually cozy, warm, comfortable, and constantly glowing.