As nurses, our work is imbedded in suffering. We intentionally encounter pain to help others. Alas, we experience our own hurts. As Christian nurses, we live in the tension between cruel, unjust suffering and faith in a kind, just God.
The past months I’ve been living out hard faith. On a perfect October 2018 evening, my husband fell off our garage roof and tumbled onto concrete. The fall resulted in what was classified as “severe traumatic brain injury” (TBI). He was not expected to live; then, his long-term prognosis was guarded. After months of hospitalization, rehab, and closing his medical practice, we are reckoning with an unplanned, difficult life.
I've relentlessly grappled with faith since that evening. I struggle to pray “not my will but Thine be done” (Matthew 26:39). What is this mysterious will of God? Why can't it be what I want? As my husband fights for words and ideas, I wonder: Why did God allow this? Of course, there are no quick answers. I eventually decided to let my questions rest.
I wrestled with the thought of just drifting in my faith. Like the uncomfortable time right after a fight with a dear friend, I was deeply hurt. I felt God had let me down. Why would I actively pursue him? I decided that's a fair and honest reaction to intense pain. However, the pain will not change, whether I'm walking closely with God or not. But if I walk away, I'll still be miserable, and I won't have God. I concurred with the apostle Peter who, after many of Jesus' disciples turned away, and Jesus asked him, “Do you want to go away as well?” said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life...you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:66-69, ESV).
Hebrews 11 declares that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (v. 1, ESV). This seemed like a nice platitude as I watched my lifeless husband for weeks in intensive care. But as I refreshed my memory about people of God who “all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar” (v. 13), I recalled faith must be lived out over the long haul. Hebrews 11 names people of authentic faith “of whom the world was not worthy” (v. 38), who suffered severely and did not give up. There was no causal connection between their suffering and the goodness of God. God remained who he was and is: faithful and good. Furthermore, he brought about what he promised to those people—full relationship with himself through Jesus’ death and resurrection. If the ancients could live their entire lives suffering and not receiving what God had promised (v. 39), couldn’t I keep fighting to remain faithful?
Recently I was encouraged by 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, knowing that God, who raised Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us in his presence. Therefore, we don’t get discouraged. We don't look at the temporal seen things, but the everlasting unseen things.
I'm struck by how much I put myself at the center of faith and look at my circumstances. Jesus calls me to look intensely at him, at eternity. Does getting my eyes off myself change circumstances? Not immediately. But, it puts me in a better place to hear Jesus, the One who continues to call me out of the grave.
I've decided it is not faithless to live in the tension between suffering and believing. That tension is the expression of a heart that has met Jesus and longs to go deeper with him.
Author Kathy Schoonover-Shoffner, DNP, RN, is the national director of NCF and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Christian Nursing. This article is excerpted from her editorial in the July/September 2019 issue.