One of the most intimate and beautiful aspects of being a nurse is what I like to call the “ministry of presence.” It’s the ability to heal just by being present. You may have heard this in a palliative context where someone will say “just knowing he/she was there helped me get through it” or in comforting a friend, “you don’t have to say anything – just be there for me.” In the clinical context, this is most frequently phrased “nurses spend the most time at the bedside” or “nurses are always there when you need them.” In a way, the phrase is about availability, but in a more broad and interpersonal sense, it’s about being in community.
I spoke about this ministry of presence in my personal statement for medical school, where I reflected on a nursing colleague and I having a conversation about finding one’s direction in life. I had challenged her with the question “how does one know one’s calling in life?” to which she responded “ask yourself ‘how did God create your heart to love.'” This was a profound response for me as I had never had such an answer hit me so directly between the eyes. It was a convicting answer. I knew that I had to be able to say that my occupation allowed me to heal. I found the answer to this question in healthcare because I found that just by being a tangible, hopeful presence in the lives of my patients, I was able to heal them.
In RCIA, my instructor suggested the same healing presence was present in the Trinity. He spoke about the concept of the Trinity as “the relationship between the Lover, the Beloved, and their love.” [This, by the way, was a remarkable analogy, as the best thing I had heard up to this point was the apple analogy: God the peel, God the flesh, and God the core – three separate parts, but one Apple.] The major take-away about this relationship was not just that God is a triune God or that He is one God in three “Persons” – it’s that the three Persons live [or more accurately, love] together. For Christians, this means that we were built for community. Since community is a part of God’s design, it follows that people achieve their greatest sense of well-being when they live in community with one another. Recall, too, that God reflects on loneliness very early on in the creation story stating “it is not good for man to be alone.” It has always been His intent to keep His people together.
Nurses, then, have a unique role as members of the healthcare team. Since we are able to spend so much time with our patients – in community together – the way we present ourselves will heavily impact the care we inherently deliver. A nurse who presents him or herself as standoffish or apathetic will appear cold or heartless; to the contrary, a warm, gentle emotional temperature will exude a sense of confidence and comfort. To the patient with an impaired homeostasis or fragile emotional temperature, this can aid or impede their process of healing. I can attest to the profundity of this fact firsthand. There should be no need for further elaboration as it should come as no surprise to say that hospitalization is a stress event and precludes a multitude of physical and emotional roadblocks. It is up to the nurse as to whether they want to go to work to play a part in their patients’ recoveries or prevent them. This is their daily opportunity to love.
“Since community is a part of God’s design, it follows that people achieve their greatest sense of well-being when they live in community with one another.”
Of note, nurses are not the only professionals who have this responsibility. Anyone who professes Christ crucified can claim the same responsibility, no matter what their calling in life. [For the sake of driving home the overarching theme of ministry of presence, though, I maintain that nurses have a particularly important responsibility to be mindful of their nonverbal body (and verbal) language as they spend the most time in community with their patients.]
The idea of being present in the moment with another person as a ministry opportunity should be very consoling. Recalling every day that being available for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, our communities, and our fellow man – by virtue of one’s mere presence alone – should reinvigorate every Christian to a refreshed perspective and energize them to remain cheerful. When we remember this promise, we can cherish our own distinctive gifts and talents that allow us to reach other people. Thinking about this opportunity can remind us that it is so important to be present in the moment and not long too tediously for the distant future. Making this a habitual practice , I presume, is one of the most honorable and rewarding ways of keeping one’s eyes on treasures in heaven. We all have the opportunity to love through a personal, loving ministry of presence.