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HOW DO OVERWHELMED and overworked nurses incorporate caring into everyday behavior? Certainly, as nurses, the more we experience, the more we grow and hopefully increase our capacity to care. As Christian nurses, though, it's not only experience that dictates the quality of our caring, but trials. Trials enrich our ability to care and help us learn to connect spiritually with our patients.


God's Word says, "My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance" (Jas 1:2-3). Does that mean I should be joyful about caring for cranky, irritating patients?


Well, yes, it does.


I had a pediatric patient whose mother was nasty. She managed to make life miserable for every nurse caring for her child. Short-tempered, hateful and foul-mouthed, she epitomized everyone's patient from hell scenario. One night as I was checking her baby, I overheard the mother on the telephone. Between curses and tears, it became evident that her ex-husband had taken her other children and left the state. She crashed the telephone into the receiver, then turned around and spat curses at me. Suddenly, her face dissolved into anguish, and she fell into a chair, sobbing. I reached out and held her.


What understanding I gained that night. This mother not only had to bear the burden of a sick baby but faced a deteriorating home situation and the loss of her other children. Who wouldn't be hard to get along with under those circumstances? As I shared the situation with my co-workers, we began to approach this mother with greater compassion. Her mouth didn't change much, but knowing that her anger and curses were not personal enabled us to provide for her needs in an environment free of condemnation.


And therein lies the crunch: How do we separate vulnerable human feelings, susceptible to every slung arrow, from our professional conduct? How. do we care for our patients' physical, emotional and spiritual nature without succumbing to hurt and anger? Part of the answer can be found in Philippians 4:5 (Amp): "Let all men know and perceive and recognize your unselfishness (your considerateness, your forbearing spirit)."


Easier said than done, though, isn't it? Many times as I approach difficult patients, I am anything but unselfish and considerate!! Philippians 4:8 adds, "Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." So think, does your patient have any virtuous characteristics? Along with her irritable behavior, my patient's mother loved her child greatly, caring for him around the clock, despite extreme difficulties. If you look, you can find good in anybody. Obviously, that was just as true in Bible times as it is today.


Perhaps you don't have just one recalcitrant patient. Perhaps you have a whole shift to endure with grouchy patients, short-tempered co-workers and piles of paperwork. How does our Christian nature cope with that? Philippians 4:13 states, "I can do all things through him (Christ) who strengthens me." Do we believe that? If we do, verse seven promises, "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."


As nurses, we cannot separate our spiritual and earthly natures. Only as we immerse ourselves in Scripture and the very nature of God, will we be able to endure the hardship of daily nursing. Being unselfish, considerate and forbearing doesn't come out of a physical heart; it comes from the spiritual heart. If your day starts with God, rests in God and ends in God, your conduct and attitude will say much. God promises us he will meet our needs (Phil 4:19) and the end result will be worth it (Col 1:10-12). We can say with the apostle Paul, "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:14) and grasp that trials don't make nursing harder but literally grow our faith and bring joy in anticipation of God's future.