1. Nelson, Linda J.

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As nurses and witnesses to Christ, we should be guided by our patients' own goals. If family members are involved, their perceptions and goals must be considered too.


I recently had an experience similar to Deborah's. Only in my case, the patient wanted peace with God. Though his spiritual goal was camouflaged by ambivalent feelings, it was present and strong. I planned my actions around my patient's felt need.


"I've got a bad feeling about all this," David said the first time I met him. David had been hospitalized to find the source of his chest pain and cough.


"Tell me about it," I said as I helped him turn to the side and washed his shoulders.


''I'm not going to make it," he said. "I'm very sick."


"Are you thinking you might have cancer?" I asked.


"Yes." David was silent as I helped him into fresh pajamas and threw out the bath water. Then he continued. ''I'm sixty-four years old. I've had a great life. Forty years of marriage to a good woman." Tears filled his eyes suddenly and he reached awkwardly for a tissue. "My wife's a Christian. You know-born again."


"Oh?" I said. His gentle, competent wife had already impressed me with her compassion. I was pleased to learn the source of her strength. "Not only that, but my son and daughter are Christians too!" he continued proudly.


"So am I," I said. "How about you?"


"Christianity's not for me," he said.


That was the end of our first conversation, but the beginning of a relationship. I asked to be assigned to work with David for the next few days.


He talked freely about the things that stood between him and faith in Christ. He didn't like dogmatic Christianity, and his wife's emphasis on dos and don'ts seemed arbitrary to him. David's evaluation of Christianity remained the same: "It's not for me.


Later in the week, while David was having a bronchoscopy under general anesthesia, I stopped by to talk with his wife and children while they awaited David's return. They had already heard the results of the bronchoscopy: widespread, inoperable lung cancer.


The wife introduced me to her son and daughter. "So you're Peter and Julie," I said.


"Your father talks about you so much." They listened hungrily as I told them the many complimentary, endearing comments David had made about them.


"We love him so much," Julie said. "I'm glad he knows it. We've prayed for years that he'd become a Christian." Julie was crying now.


"I know it may be too late," the wife said, "but I hope he changes his ways and faces the truth that he needs God before he dies."


"We've talked to him about faith many times," Peter said, his voice full of helplessness. "I don't know what else we can do."


An hour later, David was transferred back to his room. Soon he too knew about his extensive cancer. In the days that followed, David's physical pain was amplified by intense fear about his future. According to his family, they gave him many opportunities to acknowledge his need for God.


I wanted to help David in his search for God. But I also wanted to avoid using guilt tactics and talking about external religious practices. Since his family members were so vitally concerned about his faith, I thought involving them was essential.


David continued to talk about Christianity and to ask questions about God. His objections to Christianity seemed to be focused on issues of doctrine and practice, while his search was directed toward a personal relationship with God. The fact that he continued to talk about his search suggested to me that he needed to hear a clear presentation of the basic facts about salvation.


Prayer was the foundation of my intervention. I prayed for opportunities to listen and to speak and for ways to demonstrate my concern for David. I prayed that in their discussions with David about faith, his family would distinguish between central and peripheral issues. And I waited. We all needed time to adjust and to think.


A few days after his diagnosis was made, David went for an x-ray. While he was gone, his whole family gathered in the room waiting to visit with him. I stopped by to talk with them. They wanted to know if David had shown any evidence that he was ready to discuss spiritual things.


I shared some of my observations, pointing out that David's focus was on the basic issues of salvation. They agreed that he was right to emphasize these points.


Three days later, Peter called with some good news. "Dad and I had a long talk today," he said. "I presented a series of Scripture passages showing him plainly how Christ died for our sins and how to ask for and receive forgiveness." "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). "But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). "There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5).


"Dad said he understood these passages and would gladly accept and believe in Christ," Peter said. "Then he prayed a short prayer with me asking for forgiveness and hope for eternal life. Dad said that's what he'd been looking for," Peter concluded.


David's health declined sharply in the following days. He hallucinated and slept most of the time.


One day while I was turning him, David roused and spoke of his pain. I reassured him we would do our best to make him comfortable. Relaxing, David turned his head and kissed my hand. He died soon afterward.


David was no captive audience. He did not accept other people's faith in order to please them. He found what he was searching for, ending his life with dignity and satisfaction.


I miss David and mourn his passing, but not as those who have no hope. For I know David's future-as does his wife. "David missed out on years of Christian fellowship here on earth," she said. "But he'll have an eternity of fellowship with God. And we'll see him again too."