Florence Nightingale and Me

florence nightingale

(For the other entries in this series, see George Washington and Me here or Picasso and Me here.  Stay tuned for more comparisons between historical figures and me.)

A few weeks ago a member of my church who teaches nursing at a nearby university called and wondered if my church would host a special “nurses week” worship service for her students.

I immediately said yes – and then immediately regretted having said yes.

Holding a worship service at my church, especially one that brings in a bunch of young adults, is ordinarily a good idea.  Church members would probably see it as important outreach to our community.  But what I wasn’t remembering at the moment I said yes was that I would probably be expected to lead the service and preach the sermon.  And what I knew about nursing at that moment could have been expressed in a sentence or two.

How do I get myself into these situations?

But I needn’t have worried. The nursing teacher dropped off at the church a book about Florence Nightingale, written in 2010 commemorating the 100th anniversary of her death.  I had no idea what a fascinating person she was.  I read the book in a single sitting.

Florence Nightingale grew up in Downton Abbey.  Well, sort of.  She grew up in a home much like that.  Expectations of her, and for all young women at the time, were that she would become a wife and mother.  Her father, however, made a serious miscalculation.  In a 19th century version of home schooling, he gave her everything well-born young men received – and more.  He awakened in her an intellectual curiosity that would not have been satisfied if she had taken the more traditional route with her life.

In her 20s she went off to be a nurse for British soldiers wounded in the Crimean War.  On arrival she found a military hospital that was killing more soldiers than it was saving, and so she set about to change it – and in the process changed modern medical care.  I had no idea.  I think it’s astonishing.

There’s more to the story of course – like her decision not to marry, in spite of several interested men – but what got my attention and what I plan to mention in my sermon tomorrow night was that Florence Nightingale felt a call from God to do this work.  The author of the book calls her a “mystic,” but by the author’s definition I’m a mystic too – and so are a lot of people I know.

Florence Nightingale and I both believe we’ve been called to do particular work – and not just called, but pushed in a specific direction.

I plan to tell the nursing students that they’re mystics too, responding to God’s call in their lives to do particular work, important work.  People tend to think of religious vocations as somehow better than – or more important than – other vocations.

I don’t.  I never have.  I love my vocation (most days), but I can see that God has called others too.  God has called some (like me) to be preachers and teachers and bloggers, but God has just as clearly called others to be information technologists, accountants, lawyers, barbers, police officers, hotel desk clerks, investment bankers, and a host of other things.

Maybe it’s because I read that Florence Nightingale book but I think the call to be a nurse ranks right up there with the most important calls there are.

Every nurse who has ever drawn blood from me, taken my blood pressure, administered a flu shot, or removed my stitches, has done it not because I was such a fascinating patient (although I’m sure I was) but because that nurse was responding to a higher purpose.  I like that.

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.


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10 Responses to Florence Nightingale and Me

  1. Barbara Keith May 7, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

    If I were to be introducing you publicaly or to a friend, out of respect, I would say, ” I want you to meet , Dr. Brouwer”, our minister or our pastor. But… we truely consider you to be, yes, our minister(or pastor) – but you are our “friend”! The warmth of a true friend makes me naturally want to call you “Doug”. Now, I will look forward to our return to Fort Lauderdale, so I can say, “We’re glad to be back, because we missed you, Doug!
    Barb (&Tom) Keith

  2. Lizzy May 7, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

    Public health and feminism- what a great post! 🙂

    • Doug May 7, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

      I can’t believe that, after thousands of miles of travel, you’re able to read my posts!

  3. Mary Ellen May 8, 2013 at 11:07 pm #

    You are right on target for the service. I cried with joy when I read your blog. My profession of nursing is grounded in faith. I am called to be a nurse.

    • Doug May 10, 2013 at 7:21 am #

      I’m so glad to have been a part of that service last night, Mary Ellen. You have wonderful friends, and I hope the service becomes a tradition in our church.

  4. Patty May 10, 2013 at 12:36 am #

    I have always loved my profession & believe it has been an honor and privilege to serve others. I often times remember the many lessons I have learned from my patients over the years from a 7 year old girl who came in on Thanksgiving suffering horrible burns over 30% of her body and passed on on Christmas Eve to an elderly gentleman we took off the ventilator for compassionate reasons and my struggle on how to medicate him to ease his physical struggles. The common thread in each patient and family contact was the importance of presence, touch and allowing the Holy Spirit to enter our relationship. The gifts I have received have been phenomenal. I also believe I was called into nursing and now mentor others in the field. What a blessing!

    • Doug May 10, 2013 at 5:28 am #

      Thanks for the thoughtful response, Patty.

  5. Marvin Hage May 10, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    Doctors are alot like ministers, they don’t know enough about nurses and its history.

    Thanks for sharing your learning! Marv

  6. Bob Sadowski May 13, 2013 at 8:34 am #

    Did you know that there is a Florence Nightingale museum located in Istanbul?

    • Doug May 13, 2013 at 8:52 am #

      Did not know that! I’m afraid we spent too much time shopping for rugs.

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