As faculty for a local university’s nursing program, I guide student nurses into the role of professional nurse. One of my greatest challenges is that today’s students are afraid to be seen as anything less than perfect—by their patients, their professors, and even themselves.
These students portray what it’s like to have been raised in a generation where social media was omnipresent and parents over complimentary—they’re a reflection of the way current Western society is shaping human interactions. Many of them don’t yet understand that we are the most effective healers when we display vulnerability instead of perfection.
Her hand was shaking as she attempted to administer medication through a patient’s intravenous line for the first time. It was a simple procedure, one that wouldn’t lead to patient harm—I was observing every move. But before she could complete the task, she wiped her glistening brow and whispered, “I feel sick, I have to leave the room.” In the hospital corridor, her body slumped against the wall, nauseous and faint.
I sent her home, believing she’d succumbed to the latest virus being passed around her university.
When identical symptoms returned at a later date, I realized she wasn’t suffering from a communicable illness, and she confirmed my suspicion. She’d had a history of anxiety and panic attacks; having to “perform” in front of patients was triggering them in the clinical setting.
Madison, Kara, Emily, Jeremy…the list goes on; I’ve seen this anxiety-ridden behavior countless times now. A need to come across as perfect keeps students in a performance-based prison and triggers emotions that prevent authentic human connection and healing. Many of us share this struggle and can spend our entire lives in the isolating clutches of image management.
Choosing to Be Healers
Though only a percentage of people are healers by vocation, all believers have the opportunity to nurse others towards emotional, spiritual, and physical health, no matter the chosen career path.
We’re called to be Jesus’ followers, to model our lives after the way he lived. In Matthew’s gospel, he tells us Jesus spent his time teaching in the synagogues, preaching the gospel, and healing afflictions (Matt. 4).
Preach, teach, and heal—these are our marching orders. While evangelism is a commonly discussed topic, and we understand the intrinsic value of learning the Scriptures, what if we began to view one of our main missions as healing, too?
Maybe we’ve shied away because the work of healing isn’t for the faint of heart; it begins with deep soul searching and courage to face what we find there.
In his book The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen offers a powerful observation—our ability to love, minister to, and heal people is amplified when we realize and embrace our own fragile humanity.
We must approach others awake to our weaknesses but persevere through them because of grace. This posture of humility provides safe space for those in our company. I have nothing over you because I, too, am flawed but living with hope. I am not competing with you for authority, righteousness, or power. I don’t need you to find me impressive, my home magazine-worthy, or my food gourmet. You can be at ease with me because I see you and hear you as I have been seen and heard by God.
Because we can’t simultaneously embrace our flaws and manage an image of perfection, we must choose. In every human interaction we must contemplate the approach: am I going to relate in order to disguise my inadequacies or can this interaction be used, in some small way, to heal the other person?
Hospitality As Healing
One of the most tangible ways we can bring healing to individuals is through hospitality. But, since we’ve long thought of hospitality as welcoming guests with food or entertainment, it’s time to expand our definition.
In Crazy Busy, Kevin DeYoung notes, “Opening our home to others is a wonderful gift and a neglected discipline in the church. But, we easily forget the whole point of hospitality. Think of it this way: Good hospital-ity is making your home a hospital.”
He continues, “The idea is that friends and family and the wounded and weary people come to your home and leave helped and refreshed. And yet, too often, hospitality is a nerve-wracking experience for hosts and guests alike. Instead of setting our guests at ease, we set them on edge by telling them how bad the food will be, and what a mess the house is, and how sorry we are for the kids’ behavior. We get worked up and crazy busy in all the wrong ways because we are more concerned about looking good than doing good.”
DeYoung discusses hospitality in the traditional sense—something we do in our homes—but with purposeful encounters, we can be hospitable healers in a variety of circumstances. In classes we teach, at meetings we conduct, during conversations in the church lobby—anywhere we interact with others—we can bring the warmth of a safe home and welcoming spirit in Jesus’ name. More important than the location, hospitality is our presence, to come alongside another human being as a truth teller, a supportive listener, and a fellow traveler on life’s journey.
In order to offer Christ-centered hospitality, a few months ago I began to consciously approach interactions with the mentality of: “How can I help bring about healing in this person?” and it has softened my anxiety about needing to come off as perfect. The questions I ask, the vulnerability I’m willing to display, the focus on the wounds and worries of others instead of my need to impress—has shifted my framework for relating to people to one of ministry.
What It Means to Be a Healer
Observing Jesus as a healer in Matthew’s gospel helps us understand this part of his work on earth and gives us direction in our own ministry of healing. We remember Jesus’ miracles where he addressed physical ailments: curing leprosy, raising the dead to life, and giving sight to the blind among them. But, with a closer look, we see that Jesus restored bodies, hearts, and souls, demonstrating the value and interconnectedness of all facets of humanity.
To heal is to assist someone in becoming more sound, whole, or healthy again—to return to a previously more ideal state. Jesus embodied this wholeness, and he called others to it. Because his identity and purpose were perfectly rooted in the love of his Father, and he committed no sin, he was an effective healer of not only the body but of internal afflictions as well.
Jesus observed situations before acting.
As a nurse, I’m trained to gather assessment data before completing interventions on behalf of patients. As I studied Jesus as a healer in Matthew, I see him following that process for us as well. He had the advantage of the full knowledge of what was happening in the minds and hearts of those he healed, but he modeled using all available information before he intervened and so should we.
Observe those the Lord places in your path—friends and strangers, for physical, emotional, and spiritual symptoms of distress. Parched lips may be a sign of dehydration—offer a cup of water in Christ’s name (Matt. 10:42). A young mother with dark circles under her eyes and thinning hair may be experiencing burn out, might you care for her children so she can reduce her cortisol (stress hormone) levels with a walk outdoors? A child crying before Sunday school class is showing signs of anxiety, how can you help alleviate it? Note objective observations and ask God to help you see things beyond the surface so you can most effectively care for others.
Jesus gained permission before he healed.
People must recognize themselves as sinners before they can be spiritually healed and recognize themselves as incomplete before they can be emotionally healed. Jesus is often found asking for permission to heal: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Matthew 20:32)
Forced healing doesn’t work. As a long-time nurse, I’ve had to learn that people change their health habits when they’re ready to, not because I try to coerce them to do something. I can coach and support, but change has to come from within. The way Jesus questioned others gave them insight into their own deficits. Healing hospitality doesn’t try to solve someone’s problems; it provides loving space for people to come to the conclusion or conviction that they need healing on their own.
Jesus approached people holistically.
Humans are an interconnected system of delicately balanced processes, and a major part of my teaching of clinical students is to help them learn to approach their patients’ health holistically. The dysfunction of one system often affects other systems. For instance, if someone is experiencing respiratory distress, they might exhibit a change in mental status or confusion because their brains aren’t getting enough oxygen.
Jesus almost never focused on just one problem in those he healed; he knew that his patients had interconnected issues. For example, in a boy suffering seizures, he drove out demons. In this case, a spiritual cause manifested physical symptoms, and he alleviated both issues by cleansing the boy of his demon possession (Matthew 17:14). Jesus first forgave the sins of the paralytic (Matt. 9:2) and then healed his legs, knowing that the greater, more lasting problem was his sin. We need to see those that God brings us to care for as multi-faceted beings with complexities that demand more than surface level platitudes or solutions.
Christian hospitality is born out of a desire to care for others well, rather than earn their praise, admiration, or something in return. It’s the work of a nurse, a servant, and ultimately, of Christ.
If we want to bring healing to broken people through purposeful interactions, we must first recognize our own brokenness and not hide behind a mask of perfection. When we understand we’re wholly, totally loved by Christ, despite our sins, mistakes, and flaws, we can extend that love to others. It’s a love that can provide space, no matter the location, for others to let down their defenses and began the work of healing.