From time to time, during my career as a nurse and nurse educator, I was asked to give a talk on, ‘My faith and my work.’
Here’s what I came up with on one of these occasions.
AS A CHRISTIAN NURSE, I HAVE LEARNED SOMETHING ABOUT…
1. THE WONDER OF LIFE
As a nurse, I have repeatedly marvelled at the miracle of life itself. I cannot understand how anyone who has witnessed the birth of a baby, or who has studied the workings of the human brain, or who has seen the body’s
remarkable recuperative powers at work, can fail to see in all of these things the wisdom and power of a wise and powerful Creator-God.
Let our attitude be that of the Psalmist: Psa 139:13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
I testify today that a human being is not some ‘accidental collocation of atoms’ (Russell) but is made in the image of his Maker. What more powerful motive could there be for all those who are called to a caring or healing ministry?
2. THE BREVITY AND FRAILTY OF LIFE
One of the things that has really struck me as a nurse is the fact that a person can be strong and healthy one moment, and the next be at death’s door. We are given no guarantee about length of years. I don’t say this to frighten you, but that none of us take this life for granted. Scripture has many pictures which describe the brevity and frailty of human life:-
‘A shadow’, 1 Chron 29:15. ‘A weaver’s shuttle’, Job 7:6. A swift runner, Job 9:25. A weaver’s cloth, Isa 38:12. A vanishing mist, Jas 4:14. ‘Like water spilled on the ground’, 2 Sam 14:14. Grass, Psa 90:5f; 103:15; Isa 40:6. ‘A
flower of the field’, Psa 103:15. ‘A breath’, Job 7:7. Let us be very mindful of the need to live our lives in the present tense, for we do not know what the future may bring: Psa 90:12 Teach us to number our days aright, that we may
gain a heart of wisdom.
3. THE REALITY OF ETERNAL THINGS
The Bible teaches that every person has an inborn awareness of God, but that this spiritual awareness is suppressed by a hundred and one ploys to escape facing up to our responsibilities towards our Maker.
2 Pet 3:4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”
Lk 12:20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
But I have learned how often this suppressed knowledge of God will assert itself in the face of serious illness, or heart-breaking grief. It may assert itself in the form of anger: “God, why have you allowed this to happen to me?”; or of pleading, “God, help me out of this mess.”
There is obviously a lesson here for Christian people who minister to the sick. Not, of course, to thrust religion down vulnerable people’s throats; but to be sensitive to opportunities to share the love of Jesus and to pray with people
that a glimmer of faith may be fanned into a flame.
4. A REFUGE FOR NEEDY PEOPLE
The world at large favours the young, the strong, the healthy, the attractive. One thing which a church and a hospital have in common is that they exist for needy people. They are there, not for those who think they are strong, but for
those who know they are weak.
People consult their doctor, or are admitted into hospital, generally speaking, not because they are well, but because they are sick. It is just so with the Christian faith. People are invited to come to Christ, not on the grounds that they are good enough, but because they are bad enough. In fact, the one qualification required is to see yourself as a sinner.
Mark 2:17 Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
“All the fitness he requireth is to see your need of him.”
As Christian people, do we echo the invitation of our Master: Mt 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
5. HONEST DIAGNOSIS AND THOROUGH TREATMENT
A hospital, a health centre, a doctor’s consulting room, are places for honesty. If a patient has some kind of nasty tumour, it does him no good if the doctor dispenses platitudes: ‘don’t worry, I’m sure it will go away of its own accord, just think about nice things.’ It doesn’t it help to put a sticking plaster on a festering wound, or to prescribe paracetamol for a burst appendix. The patient knows that he needs to hear the truth about what is wrong with him, even if it is bad news, and he needs a thorough treatment, even if at times the treatment will feel worse than the disease.
So it is with the Christian church. People’s rebellion against God – their sin – is the worst disease of all and requires something more than a relief of the symptoms.
Jer 6:14 They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. `Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.
Can I add this: a remedy, to be effective, must be applied: when a dietician recommends a diet that will improve your health, it is not enough just to read the menu; when a doctor writes a prescription, you don’t just take it home, frame it, and put it on the wall. It’s not enough to know the remedy. Have you applied the remedy which Christ offers for you soul?
6. A CARING COMMUNITY
Nurses are subject to a considerable amount of stress in their working lives. The pressures of dealing with demanding patients and anxious relatives, of coping with high demands from managers with low levels of staffing, of juggling a professional career with running a home, can lead to what is called ‘burn-out’ – they simply run out of steam, physically and emotionally.
The question is, Who cares for the carers?
It is a question to be raised in the Christian church too. Who ministers to the ministers? Do we take each other for granted, or do we care for each other with a deep and active concern? There is a great deal about this in the Bible. Jesus said Jn 13:35 “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Gal 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. 2 Cor 1:4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. Phil 2:4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
`While there’s life,’ so the saying goes, ‘there is hope.’ Hospitals are places of hope. Sometimes it is hope against hope. Occasionally hope runs out, and patients turn their faces to the wall, and expire. The fact is that we cannot live without hope. Someone has said that we can survive 30 days without food, 3 days without water, 3 minutes without oxygen, but scarcely 3 seconds without hope. Now the Christian, of all people, has a hope to share. Christians are sometimes criticised for being too other-worldly, too ‘pie-in-the-sky’; it is said mockingly of some that they are ‘too heavenly-minded to be any earthly good.’ But the truth is, that those who have done most good in this world have been precisely those whose sights were fixed firmly upon heaven, and upon eternal things. A true and living faith in eternal life in Jesus is the greatest motivation for love and compassion that can be found. Moreover, the sufferings of this world can only make any kind of sense when we realise that this life is an apprenticeship, a preparation for eternity. Let those who suffer in this life, and let those who care for them, know that God has prepared a glorious future for those who love him. Paul knew many hardships: but he called them (2 Cor 4:17) light and momentary troubles [which] are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
Rev 22:2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
1 Cor 15:26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. Rom 8:21 in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.