From a young age we’re taught to seek approval for our accomplishments. We strive for approval from the people and without realizing it, we begin to equate approval with love. Many learn to associate the lack of approval as the lack of love. This creates a longing in our hearts for true acceptance, for someone to love us completely for who we are, without the need to achieve.
As nurses, we care for patients with illness, disability, and loss of function. Working with the elderly, I’m continually reminded of what it means to love others for who they are. As our minds and bodies begin to fail, and what once defined us can disappear. Our very identities experience crisis as we realize we have less and less to offer for the approval of others.
I think the greatest fear of patients facing loss is the feeling of isolation. For elders, they recognize their waning independence. Often people facing deficits resist depending on others. I think of the man with a bruised head due to a second fall that month while walking down backyard steps. Or the grandmother whose granddaughter had found her at the bottom of her steps, unable to get up on her own. The common thread here is unwillingness to accept limitations and depend on others.
Society Imposed or Self Imposed?
From the cradle to the grave, we’re taught we can be loved based on what we have to offer the world. It's no wonder the elderly or disabled often are isolated from society. They don’t easily relinquish their independent lives; the fear of ultimate rejection keeps them struggling, sometimes, as with the elderly, falling in their own homes. Our patients want to be loved and accepted, and believe this is only possible as they continue to achieve.
As Christian nurses we can model unconditional love as we allow Christ to fill us and love us because of his sacrifice—not because of what we have or have not accomplished, but because of Christ. Without this perspective, I’d have no hope to offer my patients.
But, thanks to God, I can gently remind patients it's not what they do that makes them lovable, it is because God has breathed life into them that they are loved. It truly is as simple as that. The Apostle John put it this way (1 John 4:9–11, The Message):
This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they've done to our relationship with God. My dear, dear friend, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other.
This love empowers each one of us to press on in this journey from the cradle to the grave!
Kristene Diggins DNP, FAANP, CNE, MBA, is a family nurse practitioner working in community health nursing. She and her husband serve with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Waxhaw, North Carolina. Kris works as adjunct faculty at the University of Phoenix and Liberty University.
This post is adapted from the article “Unconditional Love” in the Journal of Christian Nursing (JCN) (27.1) for which Kristene is a regularly contributor.
JCN (online and in print) is a benefit of membership. Authors of JCN articles receive a substantial discount on NCF membership—contact Cathy Walker if you have an idea for a column or article.