Before I became a pastor, I naively believed that the main focus of a pastor’s work was preaching and other Sunday stuff. I realized that they performed funerals and weddings in between moments when they visited people in the hospital, but I did not really give much thought to what this must be like. Having served my faith community here in western Montana for a few years, I now realize that the job entails grieving with people every week, being anxious over whether chemo treatments and surgeries will work, and worrying at all hours of the night whether or not people I minister will make it out of the hospital alive. Whereas most people have to deal with this kind of grief and worry a few times throughout their lives, when close friends and loved ones are injured, sick, or dying, my profession brings me close to members of my community going through these situations all the time. It affects me deeply in ways that I am grateful for but are hard to deal with.
Yet, what I go through for my job is nothing compared to what nurses endure on our behalf. The most challenging circumstances I encounter in the ministry usually involve what happens in the hospital. Nurses have to be there when families lose parents. They stand at the bedsides of people who have lost limbs or become paralyzed and help them with the painful transitions to their new realities. Nurses are present at births and deaths, and the long painful hours in between. Nurses are present when families lose ones they love and when others begin to lose their minds. They are there for some of the good times, but mostly the bad. They endure more than many so that those in their care might have a chance at healing, or, at the very least, the opportunity to die with dignity.
My praise of nurses may sound a little self-serving to my family unit since my wife is a nurse. I suppose it is in some ways, but I feel justified in praising my wife’s work because I have seen first hand what she has to endure in her professional life in order to provide for our family and provide for those in her care. It is no easy task to work to save a young child’s life, only to watch the child die and his parents be wrecked with grief. It is even harder still to then go home to your own son and not fear for his life. Nurses resiliently deal with all sorts of wounds, illnesses, dementias, and brokenness that ultimately ends in heartache and grief, and then they get up and go to work again the next day knowing that there will likely be more of the same.
In the church, we talk a lot about the saving power and miraculous work of Jesus when he saved his friend Lazarus. The story is found in the Gospel of John, chapter 11, which tells of Lazarus falling ill in his hometown of Bethany and dying before Jesus arrived to heal him. When Jesus did arrive, he ordered Lazarus to walk out of his own grave. Miraculously, Lazarus did just that, even though he had already been dead for four days. The story is a clear example to us of the miraculous, saving power of our Savior.
And yet, just as miraculous, is the story of those who tended to Lazarus as he was dying. While Jesus knew his efforts to heal his friend would work, those who nursed him through his illness until he died did not. They faithfully tried to save one they loved even though they likely knew that their efforts were in vain. They faithfully served the dying, hoping for healing that was not guaranteed or even likely. They persevered in their care, despite the fact that they expected it to end with their friend’s death. The care these ancient nurses gave to Lazarus was miraculous in a way that should be respected and praised alongside the work of Jesus himself.
So this week, I say to my wife and all other nurses out there, well done good and faithful servants. Your work is holy and miraculous. The ways that you struggle to keep your patients alive and share in others grief when they die are noble and good. The faith you exhibit when you work to heal when healing seems like a faint possibility is an example to us all. You go through the worst of times for the rest of us, and for that I thank you. May you be blessed for all the ways that you bless those in your care.
Rev. Seth Nelson is the author of The Church Unknown: Reflections of a Millennial Pastor. He serves as a pastor in Ronan, Montana, where he lives with his wife and two children.
Rev. Seth Nelson, author of The Church Unknown: Reflections of a Millennial Pastor, writes this blog. The blog focuses on the future of the church as well as how God loves and cares for us in the present. He is a pastor in Ronan, Montana.