When I first think of the word nurture, I think of the root of the word. It’s very nature is feminine, linked almost inseparably to motherhood. But to nurture you do not have to be a mother. You may be a pet owner, a youth leader, a nurse. Each of these uniquely but collectively seek to nourish and strengthen out of empathetic service.
Barbara Hughes, author of one of my favorite books which outlines the basics of a beautiful [and humbly disciplined] life, points out a concept not seen by the naked eye:
“To live out life as a nurturer in this self-centered, godless culture will cost you.”
When I read this, I stopped. I had to read it a second time. It would have been easy to let my eyes skim over the words, but something in my brain (or maybe my heart) hiccuped at this text. This isn’t just talking about dishing some dog food or handing out pills in the hospital. This is talking about something much deeper. This is talking about loving deeply, about bearing another’s burden.
In the midst of processing this last week, a very real experience occurred while working in the hospital. During the last leg of a twelve-hour shift, I was completely bombarded by the despair, hurt and frustration one of my patients was experiencing. As nurses we see human frailty at it’s most broken state – what may even be considered the slow process of dying – and with that comes the healthy practice of separating emotionally from the constant illness within the hospital. But every so often the grief will really stick with me.
Throughout the night I was overwhelmed with sadness for a man and his wife; his functional state was diminished, and she was by his side expressing her wedding vows not just as words but as actions. She held his hand, speaking comforting words, nurturing him, quieting him to sleep in his distress. So much love, but so much sadness. At the end of my shift, her despair hit a wall and she very expressively aimed her frustration at me. It was all I could do to explain his care kindly and walk out of the firing zone while holding it together professionally (for lack of better words).
I quickly walked to a private, secluded room and cried. Not one or two tears down my cheek, but face contorted, eyes bloodshot, unable to stop the tears as they messed up my makeup and left my skin pink and mottled. The tears were not of anger or hostility toward the woman. They were products of anguish, sadness and frustration; the same frustration that she was feeling. Our sadness was one and the same, although hers was undoubtedly greater.
One of my youth pastors from high school called this weight the labor of love.
This past Sunday a pastor spoke on loving enemies. While nurturing normally doesn’t occur with foes, something he said stood out to me on the universal sacrifice of love:
“[to love is] to passionately desire their greater good at our own expense.”
Is this not what Jesus did on the cross?
So as I reflect on this uncomfortable and painful experience with a patient family member in the hospital, I see it as an encouragement. An encouragement to continue to love deeply, even when at times it hurts the heart. An encouragement that although boundaries are needed in the workplace, sometimes to have compassion to the point of feeling others’ pain is a good thing. It is a refreshing reminder of why I became a nurse, and also Who’s strength and hope I must rest upon in moments of despair.