First published by Catholic Volunteer Network, March 4, 2020
The buzz of my alarm, the rushing of traffic, the screeching tires in the parking garage, and the “good morning” conversations in elevators…This is how my day starts and probably how many people start their days; this routine of going through the motions of a preprogrammed, premeditated day. In my mind, I already know which clients I will see, where I will eat lunch, what I will present at the afternoon meeting, and when I will go for an evening run. It’s all set in my mind’s eye; I’m waiting for it to happen.
Too often I get stuck in this kind on rhythm. One where the familiar everyday noises are like background noise in which my thoughts run free analyzing “the next thing” I have to get done. As much as this may be human nature and comforting, sticking to this humdrum rhythm is not a catalyst for “faith, foresight, or flexibility” like the Sisters of St. Joseph were founded upon. I strive to grow in these three principles of the Sisters each day in order to change “humdrum” into “harmony”.
According to the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph, when they first arrived in California, they had “only 60 cents and only a promise of a temporary house” (History of Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange). Their guiding principle wasfaith that God, in His Divine Providence, would provide for their future concerns because the work they were doing was aligned with his will. The Sisters didn’t even know where they were to live the next month, but they had the faith to look beyond themselves and beyond what the world called foolish in order to live into God’s grace. The result? The third largest healthcare system in the country serving countless underserved individuals with dignity.
Through the Sisters’ example, I am called to ask how faith can interrupt my humdrum rhythm of life. Do I lead a life that can be interrupted? Or am I too busy jumping from one meeting, to another patient, to lunch, and so on? How can I have faith that God will provide transformations in the lives I encounter even if I may never see the result?
God, I ask you for the grace to allow me to see the needs that you entrust to me today and the faith of knowing that you will work your healing ways through me. Amen.
Once arriving to a new country, “the Sisters strove to be mindful of the diverse and unmet needs of the dear neighbor” (History of Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange). These needs were not analyzed by previous generations, but observed for themselves with the foresight of what a community health program would achieve. In order to have foresight, they were aware and reflective of what was happening around them at any given moment.
This foresight is necessary when encountering the unmet needs of the dear neighbor I serve alongside. For some of my patients, the Emergency Department is a place of comfort. As one of my patients relayed, “Every time I go to the ED the doctors always say my health is perfect and nothing is physically wrong…But how come I feel anxious all the time? When I am here, I feel calm and cared for.” For this individual, ED visits are nearly a part of her monthly and sometimes weekly schedule. Crazy? No. There is a reason for it. The Emergency Department offers exactly what she, and many others, are lacking in their lives: compassionate conversations, friendly persons attending to their stated desires, someone who will listen, concerned family members whom they haven’t seen in a while, and medications that will ease their pain and suffering. The intense search for something, anything, that will bring even temporary satisfaction.
Foresight allows me to think of needs beyond the patient-chart and into the patient’s heart. There is comfort for these patients in this place; and comfort for you and me in other places, relationships, and practices. We need only ponder a minute to identify these spots.
God, I ask you to give me the foresight to know when I am running away from the uncomfortable and to something or someone who will give the reassurance I want to hear instead of what I need to hear. Please enable me to have the foresight to run past worldly comforts and towards you, who have my best intentions in mind. Amen.
Once in California, the Sisters of St. Joseph were faced with a multitude of health-related problems within their community. They had the flexibility of their vision to incorporate new types of care, for, “the people of the area needed practical nursing care as well as consolation and reconciliation in the presence of death.” The Sisters not only saw the present physical needs which they sought to meet, but had the flexibility of mind to sit with “the why.” Sisters realized that for some patients, what led to declined health may not have been purely physical.
This example of flexibility allows me to run away from the traditional sense of what it means to be a nurse, and to discover “the why”. It allows me to focus on the difference between charity and justice. For, as one of my mentors relayed, “Charity is taking care of the body, but justice is finding out why.”
When I have flexibility of mind and of schedule, I ask myself the deeper questions such as: What is at the heart of this pain for this patient? Loneliness? Abandonment? Fear of the future? Flexibility shifts me away from perpetuating momentary satisfaction found in free meals, a comfortable bed, and a set of clean clothes. It shifts me towards visiting patients in their homes when on the brink of despair, patiently listening to their story of suffering even though there may be no remedy except words of comfort. This is stepping past charity and into the realm of justice.
God, I ask for the grace of flexibility of heart where I can sit in the uncomfortable pain of another and understand their need for my presence and attentive listening. I raise to you their suffering and ask to only be an instrument of your peaceful healing.
Closing Prayer: With you, God, as my conductor, I pray that these “instruments” of faith, foresight, and flexibility will create a beautiful harmony that can be heard by the patients, coworkers, and friends I encounter each day. AMEN.