Everyone needs care. We need to give it, and we need to receive it. Care simply means attention, solicitude, affection. This is what nurses do. They attend to the needs of others with solicitude. A true nurse is motivated by genuine affection.
In some languages, Spanish for instance, the word used for nurse (enfermero) means literally one who cares for the sick (enfermo, or, in English, infirm). But the English word for nurse has a very different root: to nourish. This word includes the sense of fostering and nurturing – of care and encouragement. And the activity of nursing, in its truest sense, is a very spiritual one. It is love expressed in tangible and practical ways.
May 6 is National Nurses Day, a day when we honor the devotion of nurses everywhere who selflessly and tirelessly care for others in very meaningful and tangible ways. Nurses may be found ministering to others on the battlefield and in slums, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and private homes. The work they do is vital, but perhaps the way they do it is even more vital.
“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Mary Baker Eddy, has a few things to say about the quality of thought nurses should bring to their work. It says: “An ill-tempered, complaining, or deceitful person should not be a nurse. The nurse should be cheerful, orderly, punctual, patient, full of faith, – receptive to Truth and Love” (p. 395).
Anyone who’s ever needed to be nursed knows it can be a tender time. We can feel vulnerable, even fragile, in that moment, and we need to know that the one we’re depending upon to meet our needs is trustworthy and patient, and that they do this with a willing heart – or better yet, with joy – and with the confidence that we’re going to get well. Science and Health summarizes its list of dos and don’ts with an arresting thought: that these fine qualities point to a higher quality – “receptive to Truth and Love.” Truth and Love are two very descriptive words for God. God, as Truth and Love, is the source of cheer, order, punctuality, patience, and faith. We have these because we receive them from divine Truth and Love. Expressing these qualities assures us that our actions will be genuinely comforting and effective. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way” (Psalms 37:23).
Sometimes people are surprised to learn that there are Christian Science nurses. We care for individuals who are turning exclusively to prayer-based Christian Science treatment for healing. Christian Science nurses minister to the patient’s spiritual and physical needs for comfort, nourishment, cleanliness, and rest. No medical treatment is involved in this care. I’ve been a Christian Science nurse for several decades, and, like many other nurses of faith, I pray that my steps be ordered by divine wisdom and intelligence. I pray to be motivated, literally moved, by divine Love. And I care for others with the confidence that the same God that inspires me to care for them is also able to heal them. I have this confidence because I have experienced this healing in my own life and witnessed it in my Christian Science nursing practice. I have seen time and time again that my own fullness of faith, my receptivity to Truth and Love, is a powerful assurance to patients. I’ve seen fear melt in the presence of this faith, and at the touch of ministering love. I know firsthand the challenges and the joy of being a spiritual witness to the presence of God, divine Love. In my experience, the most effective medicine – the medicine that brings genuine healing – is the love of God that transforms the heart and awakens thought to a higher and clearer understanding of the nature of God, and of man made in His image.
Nurses do many practical things to care for us, and we are grateful for their skill. But we can be even more grateful for their spiritual understanding and demeanor. The tenderness, patience, quiet joy, good humor, confidence, respect, and compassion they reflect is good medicine with no bad side effects. That’s the kind of medicine we all need.
One way we can honor nurses today is to value these qualities of thought. And because these qualities are universal, we can honor nurses by honoring the nurse within each of us – the impulse to care, the capacity to encourage and nurture, the heart that finds joy in giving. This nurse within is a powerful force for good in the world. Like a million raindrops watering a field or filling a reservoir, every caring thought and deed nourishes our families, our communities, and our world.