Kathy Schoonover-Shoffner, PhD, RN, serves as editor of JCN and with Nurses Christian Fellowship USA, and works per diem as a staff nurse. She lives in Wichita, Kansas with her husband and teens and is active in a local church.
Recently I worked two difficult shifts at the hospital with very sick patients, frightened family members, and new admissions. After working on Saturday I came in on Sunday and was surprised to learn some colleagues were annoyed about something I had done for a patient and family the day before. One commented about "some idiot" who did "such and such" and I said, "Actually, I'm that idiot," and proceeded to explain why I did what I did. After hearing my rationale some still thought I was wrong, but the charge nurse and house supervisor supported my decision to advocate for my patient and family.
I felt vulnerable and started to react. As I tensed, I sensed God nudging me to wait, take a deep breath, and remember him. Interestingly, I had been asked to speak to a Nurses Christian Fellowship group at a local university the next day about preventing burnout. Rather than talking about the usual literature, I chose to discuss Matthew 11. This chapter describes a conversation Jesus had about John the Baptist and how wishy-washy the people were with John and how they responded the same with Jesus. Despite the fact people witnessed a great prophet in John and now experienced amazing miracles with Jesus, they chose not to believe. Despite Roman oppression and being eyewitnesses to the Kingdom of God, they didn't respond. Rather, Jesus said, they were like spoiled, whiny children not knowing what they want. Jesus knew they were tired and weary, searching for something better.
In the midst of this miserable life Jesus makes an astonishing offer: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light," (v. 28–30, NIV). How amazing that the one who is in a position to "lord" it over others, the one who is perfect and knows our every fault, invites us to come to him.
What I planned on saying to the students suddenly crystallized. A yoke is used to help carry burdens, to make an unmanageable load manageable or allow two to carry a burden instead of one. Yet if a yoke doesn't fit right, it rubs and makes the animal miserable (and uncooperative!). Our burden is the work of life—our jobs, families, bills, problems, hassles, and sometimes crises. Carrying burdens is just the way life is. Jesus isn't saying I'll make the burden go away (although he sometimes does that). He's offering a better way to carry burdens. He's saying come to me, learn of me, watch how I do things, and do it like me.
In the criticism at work, a heavy load was dumped on me. I felt a sharp tug on my "yoke." I prayed, "Okay Jesus, what do I do? How would you handle this?" Soon it became clear why the yoke was pressing harshly and the burden felt unbearable. First, familiar feelings of inadequacy surfaced. I responded by remembering God's words that he loves me (Jeremiah 31:3), is completing the good work he began in my life (Philippians 1:6), and I didn't need to "go there." Second, I was angry, judging others who didn't see what I saw, a desperately needy patient and family. I was reminded that I have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32), and the way I judge others is the way God will judge me (Matthew 7:1–2). I realized everyone doesn't need to be like me. Third, I became aware that although this burden had been tossed in my cart, I didn't have to make a big deal of carrying it. I could stand on what I knew was good nursing and stop worrying.
The burden of nursing can be quite heavy, sometimes made heavier by our work environments and colleagues. Jesus offers a yoke to carry the work that is easy and light. He has a way of opening up relationship with God, of helping us be content with self, of showing us how to live freely and lightly. That, I told the students, is the secret to avoiding burnout.