The Anabaptist Healthcare Worker: Pursuing a Call to Nurturing People as a Life Standard

A reflection from Five Life Standards Nurture Council member Jennifer Wiebe

The Anabaptist Healthcare Worker: Pursuing a Call to Nurturing People as a Life Standard

What do a cookbook, my work in health care, and following Christ have in common? The answer may be found in Doris Janzen Longacre’s More-with-Less Cookbook.  In the book, Janzen Longacre writes about the Five Life Standards, which includes a call to the work of nurturing people. She states that nurturing is feeding, but it is much more than feeding. Janzen Longacre asserts that nurturing “includes all actions that bring others to full life and growth in the kingdom of God.” Janzen Longacre’s vision of nurturing certainly has implications for me as an Anabaptist healthcare provider. Her words beckon me to provide the best care I can for others. They inspire me to do what I can, not only to nurture people’s health, but their entire well-being. Furthermore, at a time when many healthcare workers feel disillusioned and exhausted, there is inspiration in the idea that all of us need to be nurtured and supported, and that we cannot attend to the needs of others until we have received sustenance ourselves.  

As I think about nurturing people in the context of my work in providing medical care to Indigenous people in the inner city and on a remote reserve, I think about when it is that people feel nurtured. I remember Russell (not his real name). Russel was a proud Indigenous man, and he was not feeling nurtured by anything that I was doing. We did not connect at all, and even after two visits I could not figure out why he had come in. At one point he suggested that I probably did not care about him or any of his problems. I was at a loss, and eventually our meeting ended in failure. I had certainly done nothing at all to help him.  I assumed that he would never be back again, and I felt frustrated and defeated. A while later that same day, I realized that Russell was still in the clinic, sitting all by himself. I decided to offer him a cup of coffee. He looked at me strangely, smiled, and accepted the coffee. Then he asked if he could make an appointment for the following week, since he had so many concerns that he needed to talk about. At that moment, everything changed. On that day, the two of us forged a friendship that would last for many years, and I feel blessed at the opportunities we have had to learn from each other. All of this happened because of one cup of coffee. With this cup of coffee, I was able to offer some physical nourishment to him, and I believe that he felt nurtured in other ways as well. 

The story of Russel and the cup of coffee shows what can happen when we pay attention and work towards nurturing others. Although not all situations have such a positive ending, Anabaptist healthcare providers generally are nurturing people. This may go back to the days of Menno Simons, who is 1539 stated that true faith “feeds the hungry, it comforts the sorrowful,” and it “binds up that which is wounded.” As healthcare workers, we see a lot of hungry, sorrowful, and wounded people, and we want to fulfill the call to provide care and nourishment for them. 

Although our goal as healthcare providers and followers of Christ is to nurture others to health and well-being, there are times when the extent of the need seems overwhelming. There seems to always be another serious health problem or another mental health crisis. This is especially discouraging when we see how certain groups of people are suffering disproportionately in our society. One glaring example of this is the unequal effect that the pandemic has had on particular communities. Sometimes the crushing problems seem formidable, and it is all one can do to get up in the morning to face another day.       

Considering that healthcare providers spend much of their time nurturing others, it is important that they are nurtured themselves. This can come in many forms, and depending on the person, may include activities such as meditation, listening to music, creating artwork, doing a physical activity, or discussing the concerns of the day with a trusted friend. Christians in healthcare can also go to the source of all nourishment. Christ bestows on us refreshments and the provisions of life, including daily bread and living water to sustain us during life’s most difficult trials. As seen in Jeremiah 17:7-8, those who trust in the Lord are blessed, and are like trees planted by the water. 

In John 13:14, Jesus himself uses the symbol of water to teach his disciples about the need to receive support and nurture for themselves. In this passage, Jesus pours water on the feet of the disciples, and then washes them. By doing so, Jesus is showing his love for them, and is a source of encouragement to them. Jesus’ act of washing the disciples’ feet also prepares them for the work ahead. He says, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” It is only after Jesus provides for his disciples and nourishes their souls that he invites them to follow his example to nurture other people as well. Furthermore, Jesus shows the disciples exactly how they are to nurture and support others. Since only servants usually washed people’s feet, Jesus puts himself in the role of a servant, and therefore exemplifies an attitude of humility. In addition, the act of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet meant that the disciples were no longer just people that needed to be provided for. Instead, Jesus’ act of love suggests that he and the disciples are now in a different kind of relationship. They are no longer just teacher and student, but they are now friends. Jesus is a role model for healthcare providers, and is an example that we should embrace. Like Jesus, we are to serve others with compassion and humility, and the relationship we have with the people we serve makes all the difference.    

Besides using water to nurture his disciples, Jesus also used five loaves and two fish to nourish an entire crowd. As we see in John 6:9, he used a young boy, a child, to make it all happen. Jesus used that meager lunch to bless and feed thousands of people. This all happened because the child “showed up,” and was willing to give what he had. Jesus changed everything, and used this lunch to abundantly provide for everyone. He used the offerings of a child to show compassion and mercy to each person that was there that day. 

Doris Janzen Longacre talks about aspiring to a life of nurturing as a life standard. This certainly applies to healthcare providers. Sometimes we need to be nurtured ourselves, and need to let Jesus wash our feet. At other times, our small attempts at nurturing may turn into something life-giving. Sometimes, like the boy with the loaves and fish, we just need to show up and make ourselves available. And sometimes, all it takes is a cup of coffee.

Thank you, Jennifer, for this beautiful reflection. Do you have a reflection on the way(s) any of the Five Life Standards impact your work and living? Submit to Cate! cate@mennohealth.org. Please consider joining us for Annual Gathering for in-depth, connected discussion of the Life Standards and how we renew and rejuvenate ourselves as healthcare providers. 

 

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