The Life I Couldn’t Save as a Nurse

Over the past two and a half years, my entire career has centered around life. I’ve rejoiced with people, and I’ve grieved with them—with parents and grandparents, children and grandchildren. Nieces and nephews and teammates and soul mates. 

I’ve promoted life, comforted at the end of life, and walked people through the steps to return to a healthy life. In my pursuit to add to the lives of others, nursing added innumerable things to my own life.

It added perspective and gratitude, as I witnessed the brevity of life and the miracle of each day I’m still alive. It added humility, as it brought down my pride and revealed my superhero complex. It added friends who became family and a quirky sense of humor only nurses understand. It added richness and heartbreak.

Nursing introduced me to the essence of humanity. I am thankful for that.

Yet here I am, two and a half years later, and I have come to the conclusion that, despite all my efforts and hours and tears and sweat, there is one life I cannot save as a nurse. In fact, the harder I try, the more she suffers.

This life is mine.

  Adobe stock photo

Adobe stock photo

During my latest trip to Cambodia, I took a couple weeks to refocus and rest and pray. I meditated on the first few verses of 2 Corinthians 8, in which Paul describes the Macedonian church’s overwhelming generosity—“and this,” Paul writes about the church’s desire to give, “not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (2 Corinthians 8:5, ESV).

They gave themselves first to the Lord.

As I thought on this verse, I began to wonder what my life would look like if I gave myself first to the Lord. I used to think serving God and serving others were two priorities that ranked equally in importance. I thought serving others always equated to serving God, and I thought my sense of value came from helping others. That’s what He wanted, right? For us to love and serve others?

What I didn’t realize was how I was sacrificing my own health in the process of serving those around me. The truth is that nursing is unimaginably rough on my being. Of course it’s a bit rough on my body, but it’s also rough on my emotional, mental, and spiritual health. 

I already struggle with depression and anxiety, and it’s all too easy for the stress of the hospital and the weight of unrealistic expectations to feed into the soundtrack of perfectionism in my life. For years I have been trying to drown out this soundtrack of shame and performance by working more, trying harder, and pushing through even when I felt like I was dying on the inside.

It’s time to stop trying to drown out the soundtrack of perfectionism. It’s time to start rewriting the musical score completely.

Shauna Niequist puts it like this in her book Present Over Perfect

“Our souls are of fundamental importance, truly the only thing besides our physical bodies that we are entirely, independently responsible to steward” (p. 223).

I’ll let that sink in for a moment. Our souls are of the utmost importance. My soul—not your soul or someone else’s soul (because I simply cannot steward your soul), but just this one soul, my very own—is the greatest thing I can steward.

Niequist later writes, “Whatever you’ve achieved, wherever you’ve arrived…whatever it is, if in order to get here, you laid your soul down, believing it was unnecessary baggage, or an acceptable sacrifice, I’m here to tell you, with great love and tenderness, that you’re wrong” (Present Over Perfect, p. 234).

So while I was in Cambodia, sitting on the clean white sheets on my hotel bed, pondering 2 Corinthians 8 and reading thought-provoking books like Shauna’s, I was struck to the core by this question:

Have I been trampling my soul in an effort to prove myself at the hospital?

I have been striving to prove so many things: that I am competent, I am not weak, I am stronger than my anxiety, I am a hard worker, I am built for serving others, I am capable of enduring the hard, noble, respected and thankless job of nursing… You get the point.

  Photo from Pixabay.com

Photo from Pixabay.com

You know how at the beach, when the tide fills the moat around your sand castle, and all the sand gets stirred up so you can’t see the bottom for a moment? It’s murky at first, and only time and stillness allow the sand to settle and lead to a crystal clear image of what’s beneath. The two and half weeks in Cambodia gave me the time needed for the sand to sink to the bottom of the muddy puddle of my life. I had been so busy stirring up the water and the sand, running around trying to prove things.

When the sand cleared and murkiness finally dissipated, I realized I was indeed trampling over my soul in an effort to prove myself. The tradeoff was simply not worth it.

So I’m resigning from the hospital. Is this decision scary? Of course. Yet I am learning God calls me not to live from my means but His. He asks me to trust Him. I don’t believe He always asks us to quit our jobs or give up a career. Quite often He places us in workplaces that become our place of ministry. But no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, He asks this of us:

To give ourselves to Him first.

For me, this means quitting my nursing job.

The sand has cleared, and I know what to do.

First to the Lord. Stewarding my soul.

It’s time to let go of my toxic pride and embrace the only One who heals my soul and saves my life—the life I couldn’t save, even as a nurse.

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