Holiness in Stained Places

Scripture and biblical truth often intertwine or encircle our nursing experiences. I've related the phrase from Matthew 10:16, “wise as serpents, innocent as doves,” to some nursing interactions in my professional setting. An appropriate correlating mandate might be that we’re meant to be “in the world but not of it,” as Jesus prayed in John 17:14-16.

This concept of being in the world but not of it became real to me when I worked in the ER where all kinds of people come with all manner of problems. We’re supposed to fix these people as quickly as possible and send them on their way to make room for more people with more problems. Issues cover a wide spectrum—social, spiritual, economic, emotional, physical, and psychological.

In a very real sense, the world is coming to our doorstep. People arrive with cursing, complaining, substance abusing, fight-picking, and name calling. The abused and the abuser are sometimes in the same room. The pitiful and the pitiless enter. However, patients are not the only individuals with problems. Many healthcare workers will attest that their workplace is full of physicians, nurses, techs, clerks, administrators, faculty members, and students who have real problems. Each needs Jesus every bit as much as the patients do.

What To Do?

So, what are we, as Christian nurses, called to do? How are we to be in the world, but not of it? How are we to wade through all the disorder and not let the odor or grime adhere to our spirits? How can I exhibit true compassion, tempered with wisdom, to a bitter old man who vehemently curses at me? Through what means can I express love to a coworker whose speech is uncivil, vulgar, mocking, and critical, but who still rolls up his or her sleeves without complaint to mop up messes that most would turn away from?

For some of us, the messes extend beyond the ER gurney and floor to an emotionally and spiritually chaotic workplace, community, school, family, or friendship. These world-stained places push us to ask, How can holiness be so difficult to figure out in the day-to-day moments, if we want so much to be holy?

Scripture led me to the final prayer Jesus prayed to his Father: I do not ask that you take [believers] out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:15-17, ESV)

It seems that Jesus was saying that we who know him are intentionally living on a messed-up planet. Evil is in our faces and sometimes seeking harm against us. Our mindsets should not be to merely protect ourselves. Jesus intends that we be instruments and players in his divine masterpiece: a plan to save. So, in an effort to keep ourselves unstained by the world, we cannot neglect the widows and orphans (James 1:27), the alien and stranger (Ephesians 2:19), and the least of these (Matthew 25:40).

As for serpents and doves, we are not given latitude for ignorance about the evil intent of those who do not know God, nor are we given latitude for sullied consciences and wallowing in the mire. We watch out for what is ungodly so that we don't become entangled in it.

Preach to Yourself

This can be accomplished when Christians daily preach the gospel to themselves. We must not be strangers to our own sinful natures and our need of Christ; these lead to hypocrisy and a judgmental approach. We must not be unaware of the wonder and glory of God's mercy and grace; that error results in losing heart and drowning in discouragement. And finally, we must not be indifferent to the daily renewal of God's mercy toward us and others, the righteous and the unrighteous. That indifference will surely end in our neglecting to extend grace and forgiveness to each patient and colleague we encounter.

Thinking of serpents and doves--knowing I am in the world, but not to be of it--I daily ask for grace to do the job set before me and plead for forgiveness when I fail. I ask that I may be an open door for my patients and colleagues to see Jesus. I preach the gospel to myself. I trust that my succoring, healing, understanding, compassionate, holy God will show me who I am without him. That makes all the difference.

Paige Andrews, BSN, RN, graduated in May 2019 from the Liberty University School of Nursing and now works in ICU.

This post is excerpted from Paige’s online-only article in the Oct/Dec 2019 Journal of Christian Nursing. Check out JCN’s entire online exclusive article collection. If you’re an NCF member, all of these are free!

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