Each night, after another day of repairing hernias and removing gall bladders, I would drive my fancy car home to my big, perfectly landscaped house to slouch down into my sofa. I would sit and blankly stare at my big screen TV. Sometimes I wouldn’t even bother to turn the TV on. I was physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted from the stress of long hours, never-ending patient demands, and crushing lawsuits. I was painfully realizing that lots of money and possessions did not bring the joy I had anticipated. I was once again falling into a deep depression. Even my spiritual life had diminished down to nothing but a monthly church service (where I usually fell asleep anyway). My life and career were as empty and meaningless as could be.
During these dark times I struggled with two perplexing questions:
- For whom was I practicing medicine? The patients didn’t appreciate my work, it seemed as though they were lining up to sue me. My wife thought I would be happier if I quit. I certainly wasn’t doing it for me; I was miserable.
- Why did I even have my medical knowledge and skills? They weren’t helping me any, nor my patients, nor my wife. Why bother having them? I was ready to give them up. I was at the end of my rope.
Fortunately, it was coming up on the time for my annual two-week medical mission trip to Ecuador with CMDA’s Global Health Outreach (GHO). Without a doubt, these two weeks were the highlight of my year. I longed for the chance to join with GHO and serve the needs of the truly needy. I also longed to share fellowship, teamwork, and camaraderie with our medical team, including morning devotions and worship time – all in the name of furthering God’s kingdom, and this in the almost heaven-like natural beauty of Ecuador.
I always returned home from these trips with a whole new perspective on life. I had looked at several other organizations to do medical missions with, but I definitely wanted the evangelical basis for serving that GHO offers.
Before my very first mission trip, I had been understandably nervous. My prayers centered on not being eaten by a cannibal, dying of malaria, or killing any of the patients I would treat in the jungle. However, the upcoming trip would be different, and truly life-changing. With more confidence heading into this upcoming trip, my main prayer was, “God, awaken me spiritually.”
Little did I know what I was in for.
About halfway through our trip, while in the dining area of our “hotel” high in the Andes Mountains, God answered my prayers, and I mean literally. For the first and only time in my life I heard God speak to me, just as if He was in the chair next to me. He said, “Matt, thank you for coming to Ecuador to serve Me. I do appreciate it. But, Matt, the reason I gave you your surgical skills and abilities is to serve Me every day…right where you live. You don’t have to travel to a different continent to serve Me.”
I was astonished. The proverbial light bulb went on. That’s it! I thought. My questions are answered! God gave me my abilities and talents to SERVE HIM!
I remembered reading an article in Today’s Christian Doctor about an oncologist who offered to pray with his patients. At the time I found it fascinating, but knew that I could never do that in a secular group practice. My partners wouldn’t stand for it. Well, right then and there, even though I knew it could cause a problem in my group back home, I decided I would try it.
After I returned home, I began to offer prayer to every patient I saw, whether in the office, in the ER, or the OR. I was definitely on to something. I saw a light. Very quickly, however, the problem of making this work in my secular practice was solved. Within two weeks of my return, I was, shall we say, released from the practice in which I had been so low and miserable. I left that meeting and kicked my heels together in joy. I had no idea where I was going to practice or live, but I knew I was going to serve the Lord and make my new practice a ministry for Jesus.
In the next few months, God practically “parted the Red Sea” in knocking down barriers and obstacles in facilitating the founding of my new solo general surgery practice, Cornerstone Surgical. I didn’t exactly know how to make my practice a ministry. So I turned to CMDA and used some of their resources, including “The Saline Solution” course and Practice by the Book by Drs. Al Weir and Gene Rudd. From the cross on the front door and business cards, to the Christian art and Scripture on the waiting room walls, to my offering prayer to ALL my patients, patients can tell my practice is different.
Since I started this practice in 2004, my outlook has done a 180 degree turnaround. I now know that the reason I work long hours and endure the stress of surgery practice is to bring glory to Jesus. I’ve found new meaning in a life where I use my skills and abilities to serve God by serving others and pointing them to the Lord. God has blessed me and my practice beyond what I thought possible. My emptiness has been replaced with purpose and fulfillment. I serve Him out of deep gratitude for all He has done. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Matthew Montgomery, MD, was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He went to medical school and trained in Philadelphia. He currently practices general surgery as a founder of a Christian surgery practice, “Cornerstone Surgical,” in Hanover, PA, where he resides with his wife, Susan, and his daughter, Mindy. Dr. Montgomery spoke at a CMS lunch lecture on August 13, 2013.