Journal of Christian Nursing:
Department: Think About It
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.
Content in this JCN has given me, and I believe will you as well, reason to think hard about how I share my faith and Christian beliefs at the hospital. Elizabeth Johnston Taylor's article (pp. 194–202) and the review of the book by Elmer Theissen (pp. 239–240) made me wonder if I have been motivated to share my faith because it made me feel good rather than my patients. Have I been guilty of thinking more about their eternal salvation than the immediate needs they feel urgently pressing on their bodies and minds? Have I thought I knew better than they what their needs were? Student experiences in a spiritual care practicum in Korea reported by Woi Sook So and Hye Sook Shin (pp. 228–234) made me wonder about the differences in spiritual care in Korea and my spiritual care experiences in the United States. Would their straightforward approach to spiritual care work in other cultures? Amy Rex Smith's question, "What If a Patient Doesn't Want Prayer?" (p. 235) is a tough one for Christians who follow the Apostle Paul's injunction to pray on all occasions (Ephesians 6:18). A comment from a spiritual care expert about "a zealously religious, but spiritually immature nurse" was stinging (see Resources p. 239). Have I been one of those nurses or do others think that about me?
Paul's letter to the ancient church in Thessalonica offers helpful advice about being God's representative as a nurse. Paul wrote,
For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from any human being, not from you or anyone else... Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. (1 Thessalonians 2:3–8, TNIV)
I learn from this passage that the motive for sharing my faith is to be completely pure; I am not to deceive or trick patients, use insincere flattery to get them to listen to me, or take advantage of them in any way. My heart should be to offer patients what they need in the nurse–patient moment. Figuring that out isn't easy, so I need to examine myself, listen, watch, think, and speak carefully as I try to discern patient needs. Another goal is to know what pleases God—in general and in specific situations, and try to do that. This too is challenging, but I make it my aim to grow in my ability to understand the will of God. Personal gain must have nothing to do with my nursing; spiritual care is not about me in any way. I must be gentle, always having patients' best interests at heart.
Sharing our faith in nurse–patient relationships is different from sharing our faith outside of work. We are in a position of care that comes with power and authority; patients are very aware of this. In addition, our patients are vulnerable. This power relationship and patients' vulnerabilities have huge implications for sharing our faith. Jesus never took advantage of people, their vulnerabilities, or his power, and we must not either. Right motives and a right message do not justify sharing our faith with patients. More is needed to determine if it right to share beliefs. This JCN explores this critical issue.
What does God want from us in sharing our faith as Christian nurses? As in all areas of life, he wants every part of our heart and our full obedience. He can then do what he wants with the inherently powerful message of the Good News (1 Thessalonians 1:5).