By Amy Bozeman
A month ago I was approached about writing, for this blog, about Christianity in the workplace. I agreed, obviously–and yet, to be honest, I wasn’t sure how I would write about such a thing. Being a Christian in any workplace is a challenge. I don’t know that I’ve ever even put any thought into “integrating” my Orthodox Christianity with my vocation as a Registered Nurse. Perhaps I have never really accepted the challenge of evaluating how my Christianity was playing out at my work. So, right after accepting to write this piece, I found myself truly stumped and staring down the paper. I wasn’t sure where to begin.
It occurred to me that I could try to be a little more experimental at work in order to come up with something objective. Thinking I was clever, I started with a vision of the “perfect” Christian nurse and tried to match my actions to that illusion. As some sort of test, I focused more on getting my prayers in before my 13 hour night shifts. I even listened to some good Orthodox music as I drove into work. Following all the rules I knew about workplace Christianity–many of which I Googled–I had my halo firmly in place and imagined I was much like the Angels of Mercy we all see in the media. HA!
A couple of difficult shifts into this project, my Nurse-Angel delusion completely dissolved: I quickly learned that the shifts I started off “right” were in fact even harder than usual–and the more I tried to be Christ-like, the more I failed. In fact, I was followed last month by what we nurses call a black-cloud: I was overwhelmed with patients, our unit was busier than ever, and I saw more emergent situations, including more death. Every possible “bad” thing that could happen at work seemed to happen–just short of my making a fatal error and killing someone. The challenge had become too much and i contemplated backing out of this article.
And in response, I did what I apparently always do: I ranted and raved about my coworkers and patients, I cried, and at home, I threatened to quit my job because I just couldn’t do it anymore. In fact, the more I looked for God at work, and the more I tried to be like Him, the less I found Him, and the more I saw how very godless I can be.
Mid-month, after hitting this wall, I had to admit: Super-Christian-Nurse just didn’t exist. And no, she never would. Seeing my pride, I recognized how I had always considered myself above reproach at work: I refrained from gossip; I didn’t lie, cheat, or steal. My co-workers even told me I was a “good-person” and was “trustworthy.” I had everyone’s respect, and yet, I was still missing the mark.
Logging off Google in order to find some real answers, I started asking around about Christianity in the workplace. And answers began to trickle in: one friend reminded me of a favorite quote by Mother Theresa of Calcutta that has always inspired her working with people: “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, and kindness in your smile.” I had to ask myself, were the people I encountered at work leaving my presence better and happier? I didn’t think so. I was leaving work feeling frustrated and unfulfilled because my work was not other-centered. Oddly enough, as evidenced by my prayers, nursing had become all about me and what I could get out of it!
A priest I spoke with at this same time told me I was very “blessed to be a nurse because you can pray for your patients without them really knowing it.” This struck me–how often was I praying for myself at work–that things would go well for me, that my work load would not be too heavy, that I wouldn’t make a mistake, that my paycheck would be hefty? I had worked so hard at saying my prayers that I had forgotten to pray for the people, the living icons of Christ, I encounter every work-day, face to face.
Following on the heels of this revelation was a conversation with a monastic friend of mine about compartmentalization and how we must be our true selves in every situation. How often do I switch persona between Nurse, Wife, Mom, Friend, and even Christian? Even living on a seminary campus challenges my authenticity as I leave this Christian microcosm to work out in the big, bad world. I had to wonder: was I really being Amy, a person the Holy Spirit dwells within, in both places? Is my faith like the lunch I pack up before work that I will only take out periodically and then pack it away? Or is it like my nurse’s uniform, something I wear that visually identifies me for all the world to see?
My month of reflection ended like this: scheduled for two, thirteen-hour night shifts back to back, I trudged into the hospital and was hit with some of the busiest shifts I have ever worked. I saw 10 babies born, and saw 3 babies tragically die. I circulated several emergent lifesaving c-sections, was bled on, yelled at, grabbed at, and argued with. I didn’t have one moment to pray, to share the Gospel, or be my “authentic self”, much less eat anything or even go to the bathroom. I came from these shifts completely bereft and wondering if my faith can even come up for air when I am so busy and overwhelmed. Once again I was tempted to opt out of this article because I was completely empty of words about what I had experienced. I had failed.
And then, after getting some sleep, and speaking to my husband about my apparent insanity and schizophrenia, I was reminded of something St. John Chrysostom once said:”Why do you beat the air and run in vain? Every occupation has a purpose, obviously. Tell me then, what is the purpose of all the activity of the world? Answer, I challenge you! It is vanity of vanity: all is vanity.”
If my work is all vanity, then what is the point of work at all? Doing a little celebratory dance, I thought maybe I had an excuse, from St. John, no less, to turn in my resignation! Then it struck me: the point of everything is always Christ. And as a Christian, my presence in the work environment is not about me, instead it is about bringing the presence of Christ into all that I do.
The thing is, my spiritual life outside of work is always going to carry into the workplace. It is not possible for me to be more or less Christian dependent on my environment. It doesn’t work that way. And I can bring Christ’s presence into work only in as much as He is present in me. Just by my being at the hospital, I have brought Jesus to people, because I am authentically Amy, an Orthodox Christian. And yes, it is a huge challenge–one that this Christian nurse refuses to ignore any longer.