1. Diggins, Kristene DNP-C, RN

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From a young age we are taught to seek approval for our accomplishments, in one form or another. We strive for approval from the people we love and respect. 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.

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As nurses we care for people facing the loss of being able to achieve or accomplish what they have in the past. We care for patients with illness, disability, and loss of function. Working with the elderly, I am continually reminded of what it means to love others for who they are. As we age, 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 look into the eyes of my patients and see them haunted by fear at the deterioration of their own bodies.


I think the greatest fear of patients facing loss is the feeling of isolation. For elders, they recognize their independence is wavering. More often than not, people facing deficits resist the increasing need for dependence on others. Almost weekly I see elderly patients who have fallen in their homes. What's most discouraging-it's not usually their first fall. Yet, most insist that they can continue to live at home alone, and refuse the help of their families.


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 in these stories is unwillingness to accept limitations and depend on others. There is a feeling of worthlessness when we are no longer able to accomplish as much in this life, whether from aging or illness.


However, as I watch my patients I begin to see this independence is not so much self-imposed as it is society imposed. From the cradle to the grave we are taught we can be loved to the extent of what we have to offer the world. It's no wonder the elderly or disabled often are isolated from society, left to feel alone. They do not easily relinquish their independent lives. It's a fear of ultimate rejection that keeps them struggling, sometimes, as with the elderly, falling in their own homes. Our patients want to be loved and accepted, and have come to believe this is only possible as they continue to achieve.


As a society, we do ourselves a disfavor with our attitudes toward loving the vulnerable. 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 would have no hope to offer my patients. But, thanks to God, I am able to 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!!