LAFAYETTE — Dr. Bryan Sibley doesn't know exactly when it dawned on him to write about God.
“I can’t go back to a single moment, but one was sitting at my office desk at 2 a.m.,” Sibley says. “I was working all the time.”
But write about God he did.
The pediatrician and president of the Louisiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is the author of "God First," a slim spiritual memoir about setting life’s priorities underscored by Sibley’s own personal narrative. The 10 short chapters are a prescription for the soul, with simple directions to put God first, family second and everything else third.
“I needed to spend time at home and reprioritize. Then all these wonderful things started happening both personally and professionally,” says Sibley, who realized his experience could be both motivational and inspirational. “A lot of people struggle with their personal and professional lives. It occurred to me I could share, so I started cataloging.
“My pastor seconded that,” he adds.
The book was several years in the making, and the result of his pastor’s request to lead worship as a lay minister in smaller churches. His series of sermons about divine appointments, forgiveness and God’s plans served as the basis for it.
Sibley, 52, grew up Catholic but joined the United Methodist Church in the mid-1990s after a mission to Mexico caused him to reflect on his own beliefs.
His book clearly stresses the United Methodist Church’s focus on Christian living and putting faith and love into action. It’s a concept referred to as “practical divinity,” that faith and good works belong together, and that faith should inspire service. That salvation must be expressed in ministry and mission, and the integration of personal piety and social holiness is a hallmark of the tradition.
“I didn’t set out to do that necessarily in the book, but it’s the outcome of my 20 odd years of Methodist belief,” Sibley says.
He maintains the book’s application is broad, appealing to many faiths.
“We have more in common than not,” he says.
Sibley’s days are still long. He still gets up at 5 a.m. but now takes time for breakfast, introspection and prayer. Ten days out of the month he’s on call at Lafayette General Medical Center where he makes rounds and then sees patients from 8 in the morning until 11:30. Then it’s more paperwork, patients again all afternoon, exercise and home by 6.
“I used to get up in the morning and just leave,” he says.
He doesn’t find reconciling his profession to his personal beliefs difficult to do.
“The late Dr. Robert Martinez would use a prayer card and a cross with patients," he recalls. "Now I leave every patient visit with ‘God bless you.’ It’s interesting how it opens the door to parents and questions about faith.”
"God First" recounts some of Sibley’s own witnessing during his practice, and he is philosophical about the confluence of religion and medicine.
“I believe God’s present all the time,” he says. “I don’t know why some patients have a miraculous recovery and others don’t.
“It’s not mine to know.”
Sibley has also addressed audiences of doctors about physician well-being and burnout. After trying conventional hobbies — hunting, fishing, golf — volunteerism and family activities are where he finds his own preventive medicine. In addition, he holds the lay position of minister of generosity at Asbury Methodist Church in Lafayette and believes to whom much is given, much is expected.
“Money and finances are the second-most mentioned topics in the Bible, according to my study. We take seriously our desire to serve the poor and strongly believe in (the) biblical concept of the tithe. We seek to show others how they can be generous — you don’t have to go to Mexico or Peru to find a mission. It’s not just about talking the talk," he says. "When God blesses us, we’re expected to pay it forward.”
He may do just that in another book.
“I’ve got another dozen or so chapters in me and may do a sequel called 'God is Still First.'"
Adding, "Or as my wife says, 'God is still first, but my wife’s a close second.'"