1. Diggins, Kristene

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Working as a nurse practitioner in a community clinic, I have many opportunities to see God at work in patients' lives. God designed us to depend on one another for optimal spiritual and physical health. Whether we are empowering patients to see this truth or looking to act on this truth in our own lives, God gently reminds us of our need for one another. This brings to mind an elderly woman who came to the clinic with her friend.

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She shuffled into the exam room, grabbing the door and the chair as she made her way to the exam table. Then she told me she was blind. At age 88, she had lost her vision due to macular degeneration. And yet, she navigated with such confidence that one had to look closely to notice that she couldn't see.


After she sat down, I checked her vitals while she shared how her mobility was maintained thanks to her friend who was waiting in the lobby. Both widows, they had been each other's support system long before she had lost her vision. They were stronger together.


I prescribed an antibiotic for her sinus infection, then asked if I could escort her out. Holding her hand, I walked with her toward the waiting area. It struck me as I watched her and her friend leave that she had demonstrated an inner strength to lean into others. This leaning in had altered her life. She experienced strength and friendship as a result of depending on others.


This woman's quiet strength left an impact on me. As an advanced practice nurse (APN), I gained a renewed interest in encouraging patients to find a healthy emotional support system. I recognized that with a trustworthy support network, our strength is increased exponentially to tackle life's challenges and lean into one another: We are stronger together.


Emotional health and well-being are central to physical health (Ahnquist et al., 2012). The complexity of this for each person is in finding his or her own support system to ensure self-awareness and to empower oneself and one's loved ones. The healthy challenge in front of each of us is to choose to trust and to lean into our communities and be supportive for others as we strive toward optimal health, emotionally and physically.


Scripture resonates with empirical healthcare findings; Jesus spoke often of the power of the Body of Christ, as in these passages: John 15; Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:26-27; and Ephesians 4:15-16. In the Body of Christ-the Church-we have a care system that manifests the invaluable nature of emotional, spiritual, and physical support. This is succinctly summed up in 1 Thessalonians 5:11: "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing" (ESV).


As APNs, we often have opportunities to speak into our patients' lives. When appropriate, we can mention the spiritual benefits of leaning on others. Some ideas to suggest to patients who acknowledge they need to develop their support network:


* Volunteer in the church or community.


* Join a fitness group or make a regular walking or workout date with one or more neighbors or acquaintances.


* Explore offerings at a community or senior center for groups interested in reading, chess, day trips, or gardening. Community organizations, libraries, and community colleges offer free or low-cost classes for noncollege credit.



Consider the questions that follow to help determine the strength of support networks of your patients.




* What questions can you ask a patient to assess the soundness of his or her support system?


* How might you suggest that a patient without a support system look for someone to fill this role?


* How can you assess whether a patient's support system is unhealthy or inappropriate? What healthcare or legal resources might be available to your patient?



Ahnquist J., Wamala S. P., Lindstrom M. (2012). Social determinants of health: A question of social or economic capital? Interaction effects of socioeconomic factors on health outcomes. Social Science & Medicine, 74(6), 930-939.[Context Link]