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.
Life gets complicated, doesn't it? Lately my life has been thorny and complex on several fronts, personal and professional. Professionally, in addition to the demands of editing JCN, the hospital where I do "as needed" staffing has been busy. I've worked shifts with a full load and then some. After a stretch of challenging shifts, a question a colleague asked plagued me. After a lively conversation where I relayed some patient care experiences she asked, "Could you sustain that level of care if you worked full-time?" In other words, if I were there day after day, week after week, month after month, would the intensity get to me? Would I be as committed to giving 110% to my patients, to advocating for each one in a system where individual needs can get overlooked? Would I continue to believe that attention to the little things is so important? Would the toil of emotional involvement wear me down?
After one killer-dog day shift, a coworker teased, "Have we convinced you to work 'days' full-time?" I quickly retorted, "No way!" The coworker asked why and I rattled off a list of the challenges of the day. As soon as I finished, I glanced around at the staff who day in and day out do what I had done that day. I wanted to eat my words. Frustrated and embarrassed, I went home and started asking God how is it possible to sustain excellence in this kind of intense work? How can we maintain "working with all our heart" (Colossians 3:23)?
Recently a sermon at church focused on Romans 13. "Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another... ‘Do not commit adultery’... ‘murder, ’... ‘steal, ’... ‘covet, ’... and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. ’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (v. 8–10, NIV). The remaining verses admonish Christians to "wake up," "put aside the deeds of darkness," "put on the armor of light," and "behave decently." Verse 14 closes the chapter, "Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ." The speaker concluded that the key to loving others over the long haul is clothing ourselves with Jesus.
Could this clothing thing be part of the answer to my "how to sustain excellence" question? I dug deeper. In Scripture, clothing is used as imagery to describe how we outwardly display what is taking place inwardly. In Psalm 109, wicked men wear cursing as a garment (v. 18), and wrongful accusers are "clothed with disgrace and wrapped in shame as in a cloak" (v. 29). The Servant of the Lord puts on righteousness as his breastplate, the helmet of salvation, garments of vengeance, and wraps himself in zeal (Isaiah 59:17; Ephesians 6:10–18). The godly woman is "clothed with strength and dignity" (Proverbs 31:25). People can be clothed with despair (Ezekiel 7:27) or garments of salvation, robes of righteousness, and clothed like a bridegroom or bride (Isaiah 61:10). When we first believed and were baptized into Christ, we clothed ourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27). At Christ's second coming, Christians will be clothed with "the imperishable" and "immortality" (1 Corinthians 15:51–54).
Clothing ourselves with Jesus means practicing the virtues he did—compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with others (Colossians 3:12; 1 Peter 5:5). How do I regularly dress in these stylish clothes? Renewing my mind daily in Bible study and prayer, learning of Jesus, and regularly meeting with other believers for teaching, fellowship, and encouragement are clothing tips offered in Scripture (Matthew 11:28–30; Romans 12:1–2; Hebrews 10:23–25). Just like finding the perfect outfit for a special occasion, clothing myself with Jesus is something I must do intentionally.
I'm amazed that Jesus, the one who perpetually sustains excellence in his work, wants to clothe me with his character. I love that his clothes fit perfectly, feel good on, and make me look classy (something I appreciate in this aging body). Even though I don't always do so well getting dressed in these spiritual clothes every day, my commitment to Jesus and to excellence in nursing is for the long haul, so I'm going to keep trying.