If I could do it all over again, I don’t know if I’d pick nursing as my career. It’s demanding, difficult, tiring, and seems to never end. Even after my shift is physically done – my notes filed, assessments charted, and myself out of the hospital – it’s never done. I carry home my doubts, my worries, my patients’ stories. In that sense, I never leave work.
“I don’t even consider nursing a job,” a patient once told me. At the time, I was working on a cardiac/medical sub-intensive care unit in southern Connecticut. He was a minister himself, and his peaceful demeanor hinted at a hidden holiness.
I gave him a perplexed look. Nursing is definitely a job. A hard, tiring, often unappreciated one. “I consider it a ministry,” he explained to me.
I couldn’t stop a small laugh from escaping. A ministry? Some days, I can barely get myself to go into work. The money doesn’t seem like enough, the breaks don’t seem long enough, and the patients (the patients!) seem more annoying than ever before. On those days, work is more of an obligation, a necessary frustration, than anything else.
“Yeah. I guess so,” I responded to him after a beat. “But it sure isn’t easy.”
A few days later, I had one of those awful work days. The offgoing nurse and her orientee left my patients a mess. No one had been washed. IV lines were beeping and unattached. Drains weren’t emptied. Patients weren’t turned. Blood sugars weren’t checked. And I did not have a nursing assistant to help me.
It was just me.
And I was overwhelmed.
Every patient I saw seemed to need more of me than I could give. I rolled my eyes, groaned, swore, and mumbled hateful things under my breath as I went room to room. As I reviewed the medications of my busiest patient, I heard morning prayer on the intercom.
Working at a hospital built in a Catholic tradition, morning and evening prayer were done daily on the intercom. Much about the facility had changed since its beginnings down to its name and ownership. Yet, prayer remained a constant as did the crucifixes in every room. I didn’t always hear morning prayer, depending on the buzz of the unit and the busyness of the morning.
That morning I did. A minister welcomed the day, and she asked us to listen or pray along to the Prayer of St. Francis.
Lord, make me a channel of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy. Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console. To be understood as to understand. To be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive. It is pardoning that we are pardoned. And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
As the words of St. Francis poured over me, it hit me. Work is not just a checklist of tasks, medications, assessments. Work is not about me. Work is not for me. Work is for my patients. It’s for them, all for them.
Just as people come to their primary care providers for check-ups, I bring my car to the auto mechanic for a car check-up. In both instances, we hope the professional is kind, honest, and wills our good. We don’t want to be lied to. We don’t want someone who rushes us along. We don’t want to be seen as a number, a task, a checklist, a source of income. We don’t want OK work from others. We want the best that they can give.
So, why is that we forget how much we desire the best from others’ work when we’re the ones working?
Because work is work. It’s mundane. It’s a bi-weekly paycheck. It’s a hours away from what we actually want to be doing. Work is sometimes not even what we want to be doing, for the day, as a career, whatever.
But that’s the inherent beauty of work: Work is not meant to serve us. Work is meant to serve others.
After morning prayer, I mentally reordered my day. I won’t pretend it wasn’t hard. I had a very heavy patient assignment with little outside help. I rushed through my breaks, but I tried my hardest to be fully present in my patients’ room. And somehow, once it wasn’t about me, work was much more fulfilling.
In Christianity, ministry is based of Jesus Christ’s Great Commission, asking his disciples to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28: 19-20). But spreading the faith does not just mean talking about Jesus. As they say, actions speak louder than words. At minimum, our actions ought to speak our faith.
Underlying Jesus’s words in the Great Commission is the message that we need to first be His disciples before we go out to others. We first need to be the ones observing all the commandments of Jesus Christ and following HIm with our very lives. We first need to be the ones that turn the other check, treat our enemy like our brother, treat our neighbor with love and kindness, and give ourselves in service to others, even if that service is “just” our job.
Any job that is done well can be a ministry. You can be an auto mechanic, a nurse, a doctor, a teacher, a lawyer, a politician, a cashier, a manager, an engineer, a consultant, anything! A custodian who does his or her work well is worth much more to society than a CEO who does his or her work poorly.
The Christian life is not limited to a building with four corners that we go to on Sundays. The Christian life is not limited to the Bible. God is limitless, and He invites us to allow him to infiltrate every aspect of our lives. How beautiful is a life lived without putting limits on God. How beautiful (and desperately needed!) is a workplace truly working to serve rather than to be served. How inspiring would a co-worker, an employee, a boss be if they first observed all the commandments of our Lord.