Minister's Corner: Answer your call

William Simpson
Supervisor of Pastoral/Spiritual Care, St. Anthony Shawnee Hospital

It’s no revelation that the COVID pandemic has impacted us all. For some, it’s been simply the disruption of a change in schedule or routine. For some, it’s been a loss of income. For far too many, it’s been the death of a loved one. And to those of you who have experienced that gut-wrenching loss, I want to extend my sincerest condolences. The rest of what I have to say here doesn’t touch the depth of your experience, but please know I don’t say it lightly when I tell you, “You are in my prayers.”

Besides the family and friends of those who have died, one group that has been touched deeply by the death of so many is healthcare workers in general, and nurses, in particular. Their pain, for the most part, stems not from the loss of their own family or friends but from the losses experienced by others. They have literally born witness to the suffering and death of so many over these endless months, and despite their skills, despite their training, there has been precious little they could do to prevent it.

A friend recently shared with me a powerful verse entitled, “For a Nurse.” Written by the late Irish poet and author John O’Donohue, and taken from his aptly titled book, To Bless the Space Between Us, it includes these words –

“May you embrace the beauty in what you do

And how you stand like a secret angel

Between the bleak despair of illness

And the unquenchable light of spirit

That can turn the darkest destiny towards dawn.”

Make no mistake, many nurses no longer feel the ability to “turn the darkest destiny towards dawn.” The unimaginable demands of caring day in and day out for the sickest of the sick and watching their conditions deteriorate, despite your very best efforts, are taking their toll. One nurse friend recently shared how a patient even asked if she’d considered quitting nursing in the midst of the pandemic. Her reply?

“My immediate response was “No! God called me for this! I’ve been appointed.” I didn’t even think about it when I said it either. I’ve had some crazy shifts the last few weeks and it’s been mentally tough, but I would not change where I’m at in it all. When I go celebrate with the patients that are going home to when I’m holding the hand of a grieving loved one, I know I’m right where I need to be.”

And while some might not express it exactly like this nurse did, countless other nurses share this same sentiment. So, too, for other healthcare professionals, first responders, teachers, and other so-called “essential personnel” I know.

How do they do it? How can we do it? How can we stand toe-to-toe with some of the most difficult circumstances we’ve ever known and say, “No! God called me for this!”? Scripture calls us to “be anxious for nothing,” but I struggle with that sometimes. It’s a tall order, but the nurse I cited earlier shows us how.

When asked if she’d thought about quitting, her immediate response was, “No! God called me for this!” Like her, we need to know God’s call on our lives. In a way that only the infinite, yet infinitely personal, God of the universe can, God has a specific call unique to each of us. And it’s not until we yield ourselves to that call that we can know the confidence and conviction of this nurse.

Once we do that, our perspectives will change. That doesn’t mean the difficulties disappear. Knowing your calling won’t eliminate COVID-19. As we look to the One who called us, though, as we understand and commit to that call on our lives, we, too, can “celebrate with patients that are going home” with the same conviction and compassion we have when we “hold the hand of a grieving loved one.”

God’s call on your life is as unique as you are. Your call is not my call. As we seek and follow our calls, though, God will do some amazing things both in and through us. Like the nurses of O’Donohue’s blessing, we’ll be able to fully “embrace the beauty in what [we] do.” Will you join me?