Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Quiet Peace: In the ICU

About the author: Alina Sato is a pastor's wife and a nurse in a pediatric intensive critical care unit. She finds her solace in quiet days on the sofa with a good book, long walks with her dog, or behind her camera lens. She brings together her love for photography and writing at A Pilgrim's Lens.

When I first found out I’d not only have to work through Thanksgiving but also work Christmas Day, I almost cried. And then I felt oddly relieved. And then I just felt really confused. What exactly do I want out of the Christmas season, and why? 

I am a nurse in a pediatric ICU. Spending Christmas Day with a critically ill child connected to feeding and breathing tubes is a vastly different picture than spending it with family members inhaling a Christmas feast. The sounds of monitor alarms or the eerie, somber quiet of a hospital room would replace the sounds of holiday cheer, Christmas bells, and Christmas Day football. My initial thought in hearing I was working Christmas Day was, “But that’s not how Christmas is supposed to be spent.” 

And then the relief came. 

The relief had to do with more than just realizing that this introvert wouldn’t have to try to keep up with all the chit-chat and over-stimulation that comes with family holiday celebrations. I’ll be honest and vulnerable here. It also had to do with the fact that I wouldn’t have to immerse myself with everyone else in the Christmas Day hustle and bustle, in order to temporarily drown out some of my family's underlying struggles that do not really disappear during the holidays. Rather, I could actually sit with my patient and his/her family in a very real and honest day of reflection about their family’s current struggles, and work with them to find a quiet peace on Christmas Day – for not only themselves, but also for me. Brokenness and all.

Perhaps our struggle in finding a strong and quiet peace during the Christmas season has something to do with a common misunderstanding that peace requires us to live either in avoidance or denial of our brokenness. After all, do we not have a strong aversion to thinking too much about sad topics during the holiday season? We are uncomfortable with people who are grieving for various reasons during the holidays. Our highly indulgent and self-centered American culture feeds and shapes this to a profound degree. As a result, we often fall into the trap of doing what everyone does during this season, and sometimes we struggle to find another way. We eat too much. We shop. We fill our days with activities, but our souls are so often left wanting, and we cannot understand why peace feels so elusive. We are good at throwing holiday parties. We are not so good at providing safe, healing, quiet spaces for those who cannot escape their brokenness. As a result, we, with all our holiday activity, unintentionally and at times unknowingly exclude many friends and family members who are hurting deeply. Sometimes, we exclude our very selves. 

This Christmas season, I hope to allow my brokenness and the brokenness of others to be my guide, and not my barrier, to peace. My guide to our Savior who would bear a cross in order to bring about new life, to bring that strong and quiet peace.