Unrelenting Compassion: Choosing a Selflessness in a Self-Preserving World

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

When you work in the ER, compassion becomes a joke to some employees. Caring for patients that can be overly needy, manipulative, rude or demanding has caused individuals in this field to conclude that to genuinely care is not only unnecessary but naive. Surely if we allow ourselves to be affected at a heart level by the individuals who walk through our door for care, we'll just burn out and come down with a permanent case of "compassion fatigue."

"Don't let them get to you."

"I know your games. We're not playing."

"Oh 'so and so.' Just another frequent flyer."

The single most disgusting thing that I have thus far discovered in healthcare is not the blood, body fluids, smells, behaviors, or messes of my patients. It is the conclusion that--for some reason or another--it is ok (or even most professional) not to care.

It is utterly counterintuitive to observe and hear when you are new to the healthcare industry that a twisted version of discernment is permitted; go ahead, say those harsh words to your patient. They deserve it.

You may even be praised, applauded and encouraged to "stand your ground" and tell your patient to cooperate, if that is a struggle they are experiencing, even if this is done in a less than life giving way.

It's certainly true that emergency department employees experience a lot of rough things; some patients yell at us, are inappropriate, or refuse to listen to anything we say. But do the wrongs of our patients justify an ongoing attitude that assumes the worst about everyone?

Though I have only been a CNA for two years, I dare to say that the worst patients I've had have only more fully convinced me of the necessity to genuinely care. Yes they're needy, covered in germs, and sometimes make me question my own sanity, but what did you expect? This is not a fashion show, it's a hospital. People are broken here. People will get sick on you here. People may be experiencing their "lowest of lows."

Yet I find a disturbing trend in response to the needs of patients; at times they are looked down on for their medical complaints, quickly termed manipulative, and gossiped about to other staff.

Within my own heart, I've been tempted either to quit completely or become the most committed nonconformist the ED has yet seen, in this regard. I did not go into healthcare to be an uncompassionate person. I did not sign up for this line of work so I could be heartless and make sheepish justifications on why that's acceptable.

What challenges me to take a different perspective than the pervading thoughts in healthcare is the fact that Jesus was moved with compassion at a heart level for many who were broken. There are multiple passages in the Gospels that show us His response of those who were interrupting, sick, begging, needy, or outcasted by society.

"And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:35-36).

"Now when Jesus heard this, He withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by Himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed Him on foot from the towns. When He went ashore he saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, '...the day is now over; send the crowds away to go to the villages and buy food for themselves." But Jesus said, 'They need not go away; you give them something to eat.'...They all ate and were satisfied" (Matthew 14:13-16, 20).

"And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'...'I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.' And he rose immediately..." (Mark 2:3-5,11-12).

"I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat" (Mark 8:2).

We who are in Christ are given the amazing privilege of displaying the nature of our God in our fallen world. Jesus is all wise, and in His perfect discernment, He is lacking neither in compassion nor love for the broken.

The greek word used in several of these passages for compassion is "splagchnizomai." Strong's translates it: "To be moved in the inward parts, i.e. to feel compassion." It can be defined: to feel sympathy, to pity, to have compassion, and to be moved with compassion. [1] "From splanxna, 'the inward parts,' especially the nobler entrails--the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. These gradually come to denote the seat of affections" (Help's Word Studies).

Jesus truly felt compassion. He did not self-preserve, but poured out.

Do we cave to the temptation to be unfriendly and disconnected from those in need or do we willingly and joyfully invest in those who are draining and difficult?

Oswald Chambers once spoke these convicting words:

"A true servant of Jesus Christ is one who is willing to experience martyrdom for the reality of the Gospel of God. When a moral person is confronted with contempt, immorality, disloyalty, or dishonesty, he is so repulsed by the offense that he turns away and in despair closes his heart to the offender. But the miracle of the redemptive reality of God is that the worst and vilest offender can never exhaust the depths of His love" (My Utmost for His Highest). 

The grandest display of love was made to the utterly undeserving: you and I. Every person who has ever existed has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). In today's world, you're told it's enabling if you rescue someone in the midst of trouble. But it is not the Gospel to avoid those in need in the name of self-preservation. God reached into the depths of our mess, sin, rebellion and hellish potential and laid down His very life that we might come to know Him and be saved. That is radical. This self-focused culture wouldn't be caught dead reaching into the needs of others unless it had benefits to self.

The book of Romans says: "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die--but God showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (5:6-8).

Does our treatment of the difficult, problematic, smelly and just plain rude people in our lives reflect Christ? Or can we be found with overly critical tones, whispered gossip on our lips, and inward disdain for challenging people?

Amy Carmichael has said:

"If I belittle those whom I am called to serve, talk of their weak points in contrast perhaps with what I think of as my strong points; if I adopt a superior attitude, forgetting 'who made thee to differ? And what has thou that thou has not received?' then I know nothing of Calvary love."

You and I have the opportunity to expose the Gospel to broken people. Will we lay aside self-preservation that Christ might be made known more fully?

"Some want to live within the sound of a chapel bell. I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell" (C.T. Studd).

(1) Strong's Exhaustive Concordance

An Accidental Crash Course in "Flight Nursing"

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

It had been an incredibly eventful week. I had spent many hours of the previous twelve days in the emergency department, assisting patients. I was grateful for the opportunity to get some overtime before the start of college, but I also keenly felt a need for rest.

Thankfully, I had finished my last shift and was on my way to sunny Arizona to join my family for vacation. 

God graciously brought conviction upon my heart; did I look at this vacation as my only source of rest? Did I believe this circumstantial deliverance from work was more important than serving others for His glory? These questions were about to be put to the test.

I was sitting in a lovely window seat in the plane taking in the calm, dark outdoor views, with hopes of going off to sleep, when an announcement was made over the loudspeaker. 

"Attention passengers, do we have any medical personnel abroad?"

My mind was groggy from a lack of sleep, but quickly, I raised my hand in response. I was directed to make my way to the back of the aircraft. Here I discovered a gentleman who had apparently passed out. An RN from a Spectrum outpatient clinic had also responded to the incident. Quickly, we both began to assess the situation. 

The gentleman was seated awkwardly, making it look as though his legs had given out on him at the time of his possible syncopal episode. Bits and pieces of his medical history were being obtained. The individual had a history of high blood pressure and was on medication for it, but recently his physician noted that this medication was softening his pressures too much. But the physician--for some reason--had not yet taken the gentleman off his prescription or changed the dose, knowing this risk.

When the RN obtained a blood pressure, it was low enough that if we were in the ED, I knew our providers might already be thinking along the lines of intubation if the pressure would continue to drop. I felt nervous. He was confused and appeared to be lightheaded. We were 40-some minutes from landing, and if this individual went unresponsive, all we had to offer him was CPR. We did not even have a way of obtaining an oxygen saturation, let alone interventions. 

The gentleman also noted a family history of heart disease, which was not reassuring. After obtaining a respiratory and heart rate--both within normal range--the RN and I assisted the individual to a nearby seat, then preformed a fuller assessment. The next successful blood pressure was closer to normal range; I was so grateful to see this improvement. Things can go pretty south with soft pressures and quickly so. 

I began to keep a written record of the man's symptoms, the bit of medical history I knew, current medications he was taking, vital signs we obtained, and what happened that evening so I could give an accurate report to EMS at landing. 

The gentleman was very thankful and kind. What a change this was compared to some of the aggressive patients I had recently worked with. He thanked me and asked me my name--even while experiencing some continuing confusion from his syncopal episode--and shared about his own life. God is so gracious; He knows how much I love to connect with my patients.

Eventually, we landed and two firefighters boarded the plane. I gave report to them; then off went my "patient" and his son with a flight attendant following closely behind, to receive more adequate medical care.

After exiting the plane several minutes later, I saw the individual again, surrounded by several firefighters as they obtained an EKG and gave him a chance to rest. 

I smiled, thinking how thankful I was that the Lord allowed me to be involved in this gentleman's care. If Jesus had given me my way and allowed me to have an uneventful flight, I would have missed out on a chance to see His ability to provide strength to me amid exhaustion. And answer my prayer as I silently asked Him for a supernatural ability to hear the blood pressure--with a noisy plane and very low quality stethoscope. While I felt so funny eventually being the only medical person attending to the man--feeling like I needed a doctor and RN to tell me what to do next--the Great Physician Himself directed me and attentively watched over the individual.

I had the idea that to keep from burning out of medical care, I needed to fly thousands of miles away from my job and have a full out break. Jesus gently reminded me that I am not only called to pour into others lives when I'm on the clock, but whenever He places someone in my path to share His love with. 

Sometimes the best rest I can receive comes in a way that seems counterintuitive to self. We think we can only give so much of ourselves before we break, but the amazing thing about being in Christ is that we may depend on His grace which never runs out! 

"He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then, I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Though we may find ourselves tiered, exhausted and even personally in need, God often provides the chance to turn outward and look into the needs of others, empowered by His strength. As Oswald Chambers has said: "Once we realize that Jesus has served us even to the depths of our meagerness, our selfishness, and our sin, nothing we encounter from others will be able to exhaust our determination to serve others for His sake" [1].

There's no doubt in the minds of those who invest care in other's health; our jobs are hard. There have been times I've come home from work and just cried, and other times I've literally jumped for joy. What is my response to a line of work that can be so trying? Where do I run to for refreshment for my soul?

In Psalm 34, we find this beautiful encouragement:
"Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear Him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing...The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and His ears toward their cry...When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The Lord redeems the life of His servants; none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned" (34:8-10,15,17-22).
My refuge, rest and refreshment do not lie in my circumstances. No amount of vegging, vacationing or self-care can provide all that my soul ultimately needs. Taking time to breathe, enjoying family trips and showering are all great gifts from the Father of heavenly lights (James 1:17); yet even when we have attempted these things to their fullest degree, we eventually still discover a lingering emptiness.

All of creation is crying out for redemption (Romans 8:19-25)! Our only completeness lies not in momentary peace, but in the One who laid down His very life to make us His own.

"And ye are complete in Him, which is the head of all principality and power" (Colossians 2:10).

Jesus is the only One who can ultimately satisfy our souls. As we rest ourselves in His sufficiency, He cultivates in our hearts a love for those around us.

Paul wrote to the church at Galatia: "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Galatians 5:13-14).

Do you know what Jesus deserved? Adoration. The worship of multitudes of angels and every creation He has ever made. To be served entirely and treated as the King He is. Yet this is what Scripture tells us of Him:

"...Though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:6-8).

The Most High willingly made Himself low for our redemption.

The only reason I can ever say "I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living" (Psalm 116:9) is because the One who is Life Himself took my place. "By oppression and judgement He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people" (Isaiah 53:8).

Because Jesus lives in us, we have everything we need to serve others with joy, even when it is difficult. I do not serve others as an attempt to gain God's favor, but out of the restful knowledge that no one in the world could ever earn God's approval by our works. "Yet we know that a person is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by the works of the law no man shall be justified" (Galatians 2:16).

For all who are in Christ, there is no condemnation! Never do we have to worry that we must alleviate the wrath of God by our efforts (it would be impossible), instead--only because of Jesus--we are set free from the punishment we deserved, and may serve Him without fear (Luke 1:74).

Finding refreshment for our own souls in Christ alone, we may turn outward and walk in His steps, being moved with compassion for those who are in need (Mark 1:41,8:2).
"Wouldst thou be a chief? Then lowly serve, Wouldst thou go up? Then go down. But go as low as you will, the Highest has been lower still" (author unknown).
Are we willing to lay aside our own comfort that we may pour out and serve others as Jesus has done for us?

1. Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest. Oswald Chambers Publications Association, Ltd., 1992, p. February 23