Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say. You feel that way as a nurse. I feel that way as a pastor. God puts us in situations in which we can see the opportunity to point someone to Jesus, but it’s hard to know what to say. I’d like to share some thoughts with you on “What do I say when…”
Let’s start with this: “What do I say when my patient tells me they’re afraid to die.” You as a nurse, unlike most of us, have the unique opportunity to serve people facing death. As Christians, this is what life is really all about. Life is about getting ready to die with faith in Jesus so that we can live with Jesus in heaven. I hope you see how special your profession is. We need Christians serving people facing death!
But that doesn’t make it easy to know what to say. Maybe think of this three-step pattern: Listen – Validate – Share. First, listen. If a patient opens up to you and shares that they’re afraid to die, take a moment to listen to them. Ask, “What about death makes you most afraid?” or “Tell me a little more about how you’re feeling.” You nurses are used to asking patients lots of questions. Let your patient describe their feelings more. Are they afraid of suffering before they die? Are they afraid of where they’ll go after they die? Listening to them will make you more prepared to answer their fears.
Once you’ve showed your compassion by listening, validate their fears. It’s very natural for people to be afraid of death. We weren’t supposed to die. Death—no matter how it happens—is the unnatural ripping apart of souls from bodies. It often includes a lot of pain and suffering. It’s okay to validate your patient’s concerns about death. “I know it’s really hard to think about death. It seems so scary and unnatural to everyone. You’re not the only one who’s shared these fears with me.”
Then, share the hope that Jesus gives you. Memorize a couple Bible passages to share at a moment’s notice. It might sound something like this, “I’ve always liked how the Bible says, ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me’ (Psalm 23:4). I believe in God, and it gives me a lot of comfort to know that God is always with me. He’s with you too! Can I tell you what gives me hope as a Christian? Jesus once said, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16). Doesn’t that sound great? God loves every person in the world—including you and me—and he sent Jesus to save us and give us eternal life. In fact, Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies’ (John 11:25). Even though death is hard and scary, whoever believes in Jesus gets to live in heaven with Jesus. How does that sound? Would you like me to have a chaplain come and talk with you more?” Listen, validate, and then share your hope in Jesus!
You might be surprised at how much comfort a couple short Bible passages can bring to a dying person. God’s Word works! May God bless you as you serve those who walk through the shadow of death.
Rev. Nathan Nass currently serves at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Green Bay, WI.
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