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So, what kind of work do you do?

A Christian Science perspective on daily life

This is how it usually goes. I'll fill out an application for, say, an insurance policy. The broker reads it and comes to the line where I've noted my occupation: Christian Science nurse. She looks at me. She looks back at the paper. She seems puzzled. "I thought Christian Scientists didn't go to doctors."

"Well," I begin, wondering if she wants the short version or the long version. "Actually, the people I work with are not seeing a doctor. They're relying on prayer for healing, and I'm there to support that choice. I give nonmedical bedside care, such as bed baths, feeding, and helping people who aren't able to walk. But I'm also there to give spiritual comfort and assurance.

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"I read to them, I talk with them about God and His love for them. They've made a decision to dedicate themselves to gaining a better understanding of their relationship to God, of the spiritual nature of their identity, and they want to be supported in that decision by someone who understands from experience how prayer heals and who has confidence in this method of treating disease."

What comes next is really my favorite part of the conversation. Because usually, the people I talk to will tell me exactly why they can identify with what I'm saying. They'll tell me about a time they prayed about a family crisis or an illness, and their prayers were answered. Or they'll tell me how convinced they are that thought really does affect the body.

I get a lot of questions: Do you use herbal remedies? Massage? Meditation? I usually respond by pointing them to the two books that guide my nursing practice. The first book is the Bible. I look to the healing work of Jesus and his followers for guidance on how best to support my fellow students of Christianity. The early Christians healed spiritually. They counseled us to express love, patience, compassion, and trust in God in the face of the challenges life brings. The book of James states, "Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up" (5:14, 15).

I turn often to the accounts of healing in the Bible to understand the quality of thought that brought those first followers of Jesus to the point of effecting such decisive cures. I pray for these qualities to be brought out more clearly in my own heart and life.

The second book that guides my work is "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." The author, teacher, and healer, Mary Baker Eddy, illustrates repeatedly the mental nature of disease - the vital importance of recognizing the patient's mental state and of doing, saying, and thinking those things that will lessen, not increase, the patient's fear.

Here are two examples of principles from Science and Health that guide my work:

• "The poor suffering heart needs its rightful nutriment, such as peace, patience in tribulation, and a priceless sense of the dear Father's loving-kindness" (pages 365-366). After more than 20 years of working with this concept, I have more confidence in these "spiritual nutriments" than in herbs or special diets.

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• "Never tell the sick that they have more courage than strength. Tell them rather, that their strength is in proportion to their courage" (page 417). Nurturing patients' confidence in their spiritual convictions is basic to my work.

The word nurse means "to nurture; to foster." Only in the past century have we come to identify the word primarily with medical care. It's always had a much broader meaning, and to me the essence of the word is that nurturing, fostering of one's sense of God-given health and wholeness.

That's the short version. The work is challenging, but it keeps me growing, and the gratitude and reverence I feel when the patient is healed are deeply satisfying.