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.
When I first encountered the term "reflective practice," I was intrigued. I figured it had something to do with improving nursing practice by intentionally thinking about care, but I wasn't exactly sure what it meant or how to go about reflecting on practice. I did some reading and approached the topic like any good editor—I put out a call for manuscripts to publish in JCN. Nancy Kofoed (Reflective Practice for Personal and Professional Transformation, pp. 132–138) and Kamalini Kumar (Living Out Reflective Practice, pp. 139–143) responded and wrote two excellent articles that make up the continuing education module for this issue. They taught me a lot.
As I prepared Kofoed's and Kumar's manuscripts, I kept thinking about the challenges in life to reflect. Tasks and deadlines compel me to push forward daily, to be actively working, not quietly reflecting. At the hospital where I do shift work, I struggle to get medications out on time, check blood sugars, handle discharges and admissions, meet one-to-one with patients, help make rounds as required, talk with anxious family members, review charts, obtain and process physician orders, and on it goes. Realistically, who has time to do this?
Stop! That's a red flag I've encountered before. Every time I think my life is too busy or stressed to stop, think, process, or pray, I remind myself of how busy Jesus' life was.
I believe nobody is busier than Jesus was during his life on earth. No one has more demands on his or her time, or experiences more pressure. Yet we find Jesus over and over again withdrawing from life to reflect and pray (i.e., Matthew 14:23; John 6:15). Large crowds typically followed and interrupted (so much for quiet reflection), yet Jesus always had compassion on the people and kept healing them, talking with them, loving them (Matthew 12:15, 14:13–14; Mark 3:7). Nevertheless, somehow, even if in the middle of the night, Jesus took time to reflect, pray, and spend time with his Father. Luke 5:16 states, "But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed" (NIV). I am amazed that Jesus disciplined himself to withdraw and reflect. If our Lord, King of the Universe, could take time to reflect, I certainly can.
Considering reflection through the life of Christ I realize reflection is an act of obedience—a response to God to spend time thinking with him about life and what's important. I take the time to go to a gym and exercise almost every day; that's a choice and act of personal obedience. Anyone who exercises regularly will tell you it involves an intentional stopping of life to do something that can be fairly difficult. But exercise is so rewarding. I think reflection is like that. Jesus said at the end of his life that he had completed the work God gave him (John 17:4). This is because he took time to figure out what he was doing, what God wanted him to do, where to go, what to say. Like Jesus, I want to be able to say I have completed my work well. This means I need to practice the discipline of reflection to figure out what is going well and what isn't, asking where do I need to change, to learn?
Considering reflection in this way also makes me realize reflection isn't stopping and doing nothing; it is an intentional action just like exercise. There's nothing passive about it. Reflection is directing my thoughts rather than letting my thoughts direct me.
Jesus taught his disciples to reflect. After public teaching or events would occur, he took his disciples aside and processed what happened (Mark 7:17, 10:10). If things didn't work the way the disciples thought they should, Jesus helped them understand why (Mark 9:28–29). In one instance as he reflected about a parable the disciples didn't understand, Jesus said, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you" (Luke 8:9–15, NIV). Later he told them the Holy Spirit would help them reflect and learn, teaching them everything they needed to know (John 14:15–17, 26).
Thinking about the life of Jesus gives reflective practice a whole new meaning. With Jesus as my example and the Holy Spirit as my guide, I want to discover the secrets of the kingdom of God for my nursing practice.