IMAGINE THIS SCENARIO. Arriving at work you are warmly greeted with an enthusiastic, “Good morning! It's going to be a great day. How are you today?” The greeting is more than polite chatter. Most colleagues attentively listen to your response. Your work group is comprised of people from diverse backgrounds and circumstances, all excited about the new workday. Your coworkers work well together to accomplish the task. Individual work efforts are carried out with confidence because employees feel supported. Administrators seek opportunities to validate the importance of each worker and his or her contributions. Disagreements and conflicts are handled in a way that the persons involved sense their perspective is heard. Win-win solutions are frequently sought and there is respect for all individuals. Opportunities for professional growth are fostered across the board. While some employees leave to work elsewhere, many employees enjoy long, fulfilling careers with the organization. Sound too good to be true? Could this be a description of one of the nation's magnet hospitals or an organization that has fully embraced the philosophy of Continuous Quality Improvement? Given the right attitudes, circumstances and values, could more employees feel this way about their work settings?
Probably too few nurses feel this description reflects their work environment.
Many nurses work in places where human and material resources are stretched to the limit. Employees feel overwhelmed with job requirements and are therefore less likely to exhibit caring behaviors toward each another. Conflicts that occur in the workplace often result in people responding in anger and holding grudges, or in some cases quitting their jobs.
What should Christians bring to the work environment? As Christian nurses, we should strive to rightly represent God in everything we do, whether at work, at church or at play (Col 3:17). Our attitude about work makes a difference personally and in our work environments. We can shape the work atmosphere for good, or at least refuse to add to the craziness. The challenge is how to be a source of light while navigating our ever-changing, conflict-ridden, and sometimes overwhelming, work environments. The Bible offers insightful principles to help.
One significant principle is found in Isaiah 26:3 (NKJV), which reads, “[God] will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on [God].”This verse suggests that a peaceful existence is possible in the midst of struggle or turmoil. Even when the workplace becomes challenging or downright distasteful, Christian nurses can strive for peace of mind. At times, that may be the only thing within our control. A peaceful mind fuels appropriate and controlled thoughts, words and deeds. This isn't easy, and certainly some days are easier than others. How do we foster a peaceful mind? Obtaining and maintaining a state of peacefulness requires a consistent and conscious effort to focus on God—not just a brief morning prayer before beginning our day, but committing ourselves to him throughout the day and in all of life.
CHALLENGES TO PEACE
Peace in the biblical context is not necessarily the absence of conflict; rather, it is order, safety and completeness (Gal 5:22–23).The apostle Peter tells us: “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet 4:12), suggesting that difficulties are guaranteed. Let's examine a few areas where challenges occur that can destroy peace.
Communication. This is a common source for problems. Frequently it is the non-verbal communication, like the voice or tone, rather than the verbal communication, that betrays the feelings of the speaker. These could be impatience, anger, condescension or indifference (Ps 15: 1–3; Prov 15:1). Sentiments can be expressed via non-verbals, such as touch, facial expression or body posture. In stressful work environments, careless communication is too often the source of lost peace. We are often more aware of our communication strategies when dealing with patients, but forgetful with coworkers.
Conflict of values. In our highly competitive society, the lack of integrity and honor can be a source of disquietude. Webster defines integrity as uprightness of character or action; anxious regard for the standards of one's profession, calling, or position; trustworthiness, responsibility, incorruptibility.1 Christians are swimming upstream in this regard, as evidenced by rampant corporate scandals and greed. Indeed, at times, one may be penalized for honesty and integrity! But Scripture warns us that friendship with the world means enmity with God (Jas 4: 4) and if the world hated Jesus, it also will hate us (Jn 15:18).
Envy. Christians are called upon to rightly represent God in all we do (1 Cor 10:31). This mindset constrains us to strive for excellence in all undertakings, to go the second mile, to seek the good in others. But such an approach to life is a tried and tested recipe for engendering unintended resentment in coworkers. The apostle James, concerned with the practical aspects of the Christian faith, offers anticipatory guidance: For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness… but the wisdom from above is… peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy (Jas 3:16–17). We are to be encouraged by God's wisdom while expecting backbiting, marginalization and, at times, outright ridicule from the world.
Control issues. As Christians, we recognize that we are called to accept and follow authority figures at home, in our places of worship, in the workplace or in government (Eph 5:21–31; 1 Pet 2:13–18). In the workplace a common problem is that everyone wants to be in control. You may work where coworkers seek to legislate or critique your work, or where your manager has a tendency to micromanage. This can be demeaning to your professionalism and destroys the peacefulness you are striving to maintain (Lk 22:25).
HELP FROM SCRIPTURE
Well-known biblical characters and their experiences illustrate approaches to the inevitable challenges of work. Queen Esther courageously advocated for her people in a matter of life and death (Esther 1–10). Nurses advocate in matters of life and death, and for the health and safety of the public. How did Queen Esther do her work? First, she respected and listened to those in authority. Then, she systematically prepared for her work. Before meeting King Ahasuerus, she underwent a yearlong beautification program (Esther 2:12); when crisis struck, she fasted and called others to fast for three days before entering into an important negotiation with the king on behalf of her people (Esther 4:16). We too can benefit from systematically preparing before we enter the workplace.
Preparation is key. Preparation may take various forms in maintaining peacefulness at work. A brief prayer on your way out the door to work won't suffice. Scripture reading and prayer empower you to deal with work challenges, versus becoming frustrated by the challenges. To prepare, select a psalm that is personally empowering, and commit it to memory. Write out your prayers, specifically inviting God to help you with the issues that you will face that day. Pray this prayer throughout the day. Study God's Word, memorize it and pray without ceasing (Mt 6:7–8; 1 Thess 5:17).
Pastor T. D. Jakes in his tape series, “The Ten Commandments of Working in a Hostile Environment,” suggests that you keep a song in your heart to enable you to walk among evil.2 Carefully select your song and sing it during your devotional time and at select times during the day.
Connect with other Christians in the workplace and pray together. Engage in regular worship and friendship with other Christians. Once you find an effective method of preparation that empowers you, do it.
Have realistic expectations. It is natural to expect rewards for a job well done, be it through a promotion, a pay raise or a pat on the back. When these fall through, it hurts. We can become overly concerned about earthly versus heavenly rewards. Jakes warns not to expect appreciation at work, adding that because appreciation may or may not happen, we must seek it within special relationships where we are appreciated for who we are and what we do, such as at home or among friends or the church family.3
Psalm 62:12 states that we will be justly rewarded by God: “Steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.” Allow your thinking to be impregnated by important points from this verse. First, we can choose to see God as our ultimate boss. People may change, some personalities are hard to get along with, and work politics change. However, we can choose to have one true boss who will not change (Jas 1:17). We cannot count on life or people to be fair and equitable, but we can count on the eternal God. Some rewards may not be seen in your current work circumstance, and some are reserved for eternity, but we can trust God to reward us. View God as your employer, asking him how to do high quality work (Col 3:22–23). We can count on his help, direction and reward.
Set priorities. In nursing, whether as staff nurses, educators or administrators, we know how vital it is to prioritize wisely. There is much to do and little time. We must be clear about what is important. We become anxious and overwhelmed when we aren't clear about what is most important. However, we can respond to situations at work from a sense of peacefulness when we don't allow ourselves to get bogged down in minutia.
Note the story of the sisters Mary and Martha, who opened their home to Jesus and the disciples (Lk 10:38–42). Both sisters loved Jesus, wanted him to feel welcome in their home and were eager to serve him. Martha, however, implied to the Lord that Mary, who was sitting at Jesus' feet listening to him while Martha worked, wasn't doing it right. Martha felt her style of serving Jesus—her work style—was superior to Mary's.
Perhaps you've been in a situation where a coworker has criticized your work style. When Jesus said to Martha, “You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her” (Lk 10:41–42), he was suggesting that Mary's priorities were appropriate and on target.
Mary's mission, like that of Esther, was clear. She was focused on hearing from the Lord, even though the societal custom of the day barred women from sitting at the feet of a master teacher. We too need to spend time hearing from Jesus and determining our mission, which is larger than the tasks that we perform on a daily basis. Christian author Laurie Beth Jones provides a helpful resource to clarify our mission for work and life in her book The Path.4
Be disciplined in your language. In Psalm 34, David honored the greatness of the Lord during a time when David was in deep trouble and trying to protect his life from King Saul, who was trying to kill him. David's life was in jeopardy, yet he offered praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. He encouraged others to watch what they say (verse 13) and to try to live at peace (verse 14). He had complete confidence in God to protect him.
We need to keep David's words in mind when dealing with conflicts at work. While part of us wants to tell somebody, our concerns and fears should be taken to God in prayer or written down in a personal journal. We need to follow God's directions for handling conflict (see Prov 19:1 1;Mt 18:15–20; Gal 6:1–3; Phil 2:3–4; Col 3:13). On occasion, we may need to choose with care a mature Christian, a neutral party not part of the work setting, who is trustworthy and able to provide divinely tempered counsel. This is different from complaining to everyone willing to listen to our problems. Complaining doesn't improve the situation and drains us of needed energy. Replacing the tendency to complain requires a disciplined approach to eventually overcome a natural, human tendency.
Consider the season. Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 reminds us that everything has its time. God has a right sequence and order for our individual lives. As Christian nurses, we might ask, What season am I in now? Put another way, Given my mission, where does God want me to be, and what does he want me to be doing right now? These questions can only be answered by listening to God, which is difficult with noisy lives and habitual ways of doing things. Plan times of retreat, where you can be alone with God for an hour, a day, a weekend or longer. Read God's Word, pray and ask him to speak.
Maybe you've tried different ways to obtain that promise of perfect peace, but it continues to elude you. Not every job or career path is right for every season. There may be a time to consider doing a different type of work. The key is to hear what God is saying about the season that you are in now.
PEACE OF MIND
As nurses we are taught to bring a calming or comforting influence to all professional relationships: nurse-patient, student-teacher, nurse-family member, administrator-employee. Doing so requires much therapeutic giving of self. If we are struggling within and not at peace, how can we offer peace to situations where it's most needed? Many of us try, despite our inner turmoil. We wind up being ineffective or exhausted. Remember, God will keep us in perfect peace if we focus on him daily and create and maintain an internal environment that allows peace to prevail. It is up to each of us to nurture this mindset. Then God can provide peace of mind.
1 Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary
(Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster): p. 579.
2 Bishop T. D. Jakes, The Ten Commandments of Working in a Hostile Environment
, audiotape series, (Dallas, Tex.: T.D. Jakes Ministries)
4 Laurie Beth Jones, The Path: Creating Your Mission Statement for Work and for Life
, (New York: Hyperion, 1996).