Nursing: A Sacred Work?

Have you felt, during the past year of nursing, that you’re threatened with an avalanche of fire retardant that threatens to extinguish any remaining passion for patient care? If so, you’re in the company of many nurses.

One resource we have as Christian nurses is the how we view our work. A recent study of 463 nurses at a faith-based hospital documented that the more a nurse ascribed sacredness to work, the less burnout and intention to leave and the more job satisfaction, engagement, and commitment. Researchers used a measure of “sanctification” of work that assessed how much a nurse perceived work as sacred, awesome, blessed, inspiring, holy, mysterious, and so forth.

How can you increase this sense of sacredness about you work?

  • See Christ in every patient and colleague, a practice that Mother Teresa reportedly found helpful. If God manifests in all of creation, then every patient is holy and each encounter is sacred. Granted, sometimes sacredness is hard to see!
  • Ask, “What can this patient or situation teach me?” What did a projective reaction you had to a difficult situation teach you about your shadow? How did a patient's story inform you about how you want to chart your future? Whether painful or joyful, each work-related encounter can manifest God's grace.
  • Create a spiritual climate at work. Researchers in China found that the more a nurse perceived working in a “spiritual climate,” the more job satisfaction and the less burnout and turnover intention the nurse reported. A spiritual climate was indicated by respect for diverse spiritual views, and comfort and encouragement to express one's spiritual views.

Questions for reflection:

  • How can I show respect for colleagues whose spiritual views and religious practices differ from mine?
  • How can I support them to assist their coping with work?
  • Might this openness of heart boomerang and bring me comfort when I need it at work?

A story is told of three stone masons who were asked about what they did. The first grumpily replied that he chiseled stone. The second answered with slight irritation that he was building a wall. The third stone mason was unexpectedly joyful when he responded, “I'm building a cathedral!” (http://www.realgoodwork.com/the-three-stone-masons/). This story illustrates the potential positive employment outcomes for nurses who envision work as sacred.

This post is an excerpt from the FAQs In Spiritual Care column written by Elizabeth Johnston Taylor in the April-June 2021 issue of the Journal of Christian Nursing. Johnson Taylor, PhD, RN, FAAN, is a professor at the School of Nursing at Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA, and researches and writes frequently on spiritual care.

If you liked this column, check into the author’s previous FAQs in Spiritual Care topics on the digital version of JCN.

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