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“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12 – NIV)

In my January 20, 20221 Christ Animated Learning Blog post, I wrote about several ways I offer my students opportunities to integrate their faith in the courses I teach at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Among the examples I cited an extra credit assignment I give the week before classes to nursing students who will be in my Principles of General, Organic and Biochemistry course.

The students read an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal in 2018, entitled “A Sisterhood of Nurses” that follows the lives of six Philippine women who came to the U.S. over 40 years ago to pursue careers in nursing. I ask students to write a one-page summary of the article and then to identify at least one biblical principle that the six women evidenced, supporting their chosen principle with a scriptural reference. Finally, they are to write about themselves and their own faith journey.

I am less interested in reading a rehash of a newspaper column than I am in learning about my students’ abilities to think critically and tease out scriptural principles from the story. However, I am most interested in reading about my students’ faith journeys and how Palm Beach Atlantic University ultimately became part of their stories.

GenZers love to write about themselves. They are described as “eager to share their ideas and opinions with others. They want to participate in important conversations, both personally and professionally and expect others to take their considerations seriously regardless of their age or experience.” Not surprisingly, all of my students are unafraid to open up and become vulnerable, sharing the metanarratives of their lives that include not just the banal details of where they’re from and where they went to school but also the tragedies, heartbreaks, and difficult family situations that have shaped them into the young people they are and the future nurses they will ultimately become.

I have been collecting these essays now for four years. My students have become part of a larger research project as I follow them along their career paths. Despite the fact that almost all of my students are freshmen, and teenagers, they have a lot to say about life. It is time to let them teach us.

So, in the words of my own students, here are four truths that experiences have taught them about life.

Happiness comes from serving others     

One of my male nursing students whose decision to attend PBA was largely based on our “offer of faith-based classes,” wrote, “My interest in nursing is the fact that I can make someone’s day better, save someone’s life or even just comfort someone in a scary situation. I learned that my happiness comes from making someone’s day just that much better or even seeing a smile on their face.” Many of us have heard something similar preached from the pulpit: If you want to get out of your funk, then go and do something nice for someone else. We are wired for happiness. True joy is initially found when a person surrenders his life to Christ. After that, the Christian will be most happy when serving others sacrificially. Another student wrote, “I want to show Christ’s love through my service,” echoing the words of Jesus: “The greatest among you will be your servant,” (Matthew 23:11 NIV).

Growing up under difficult circumstances is not an excuse to play the victim card

There are many examples of people in the Bible who, despite being raised in either dysfunctional families or enduring unexpected tragedies, refused to allow their circumstances to become their identity. Jacob ran for his life from his brother Esau. Joseph’s jealous brothers attempted to murder him by throwing him down a well. Naomi’s husband and two sons died unexpectedly. We do not get to decide where or to whom we are born nor to dictate the circumstances we face in early childhood.

Several of my students have come from broken homes where they experienced abuse, or their parents went through a bitter divorce resulting in them being raised in single-parent homes. Notwithstanding, they have decided not to become victims. One wrote, “I am a first-generation college student in my family. Growing up, my mom was a single mom with two kids. I learned how to earn things if I wanted them. Also, never to take anything for granted. Most importantly, I learned how to grind to get to where I want to go.” Another wrote, “When I was little my mom went to nursing school despite being a single parent. which was already tough. Her passion and care towards others inspired me to do the same.” These two young ladies recognized that despite their less-than-ideal circumstances, God is sovereign in their lives, and they have chosen to be victors instead of victims.

God uses tragedy to drive us to our purpose

In Isaiah chapter 61, the Lord promises Israel to “appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified,” (Isaiah 61:3 KJV)

This promise was especially comforting to one of my students whose essay recounted several family tragedies.  

[My father] was a gentle, beautiful man but mentally ill. My family suffered tremendously after he took his life… [then] my younger sister was diagnosed with cancer… the chemotherapy made her violently ill every day. The only people who could ever brighten her dark days were the nurses… I want to be that person those nurses were for my sister.

Another of my students wrote about her brother who “was injured at birth and diagnosed with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy, epilepsy and an array of other [diseases].” She went on to recount that her life was continually surrounded by medical equipment and home nurses. As she grew, she learned from them, “I could easily name [my brother’s] conditions and … even the medications taken.” As a result, she has always wanted to go into the medical field, but she chose nursing because the doctors rarely acknowledged her. She shared,

The nurses often said “Hi,” asked if I wanted anything and even tried to memorize my name. These small interactions had a significant impact on my life. The nurses became role models for me by seeing how they cared for my brother and would work tirelessly to make him comfortable. I aspire to do this for other medically complex children and as a result, I hope I can be a friendly face to those siblings painfully watching their siblings suffer. 

Her brother passed away in May, 2018. She has not returned to the hospitals that took care of him. Although she says it will be difficult to work in an environment that will bring back difficult memories, “I do believe that [nursing] is my God-given calling.”

The important things in life are often caught, not taught

“My mom is a nurse, and she loves what she does,” wrote one student. “The way [she] cares for others and shows kindness really inspires me to want to be like her.”

Another wrote, “I was especially in awe of the nurses. I would ask them questions and feel my nerves go away from talking to them. I would tell my mom, ‘I want to do what they do when I am older.’”

The Apostle Paul would remind us, “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do,” (Philippians 3:17).  

In the classic book, “Spiritual Leadership,” J. Oswald Sanders notes “The power of inspiring others to service and sacrifice will mark God’s leader. Such a leader is a light for others around.” In the same way these nurses inspired my students to pursue careers in nursing, may Sanders’ words serve as a reminder to us teachers that we also have the same influence over our students.      

Gregory J. Rummo

Gregory J. Rummo, B.S., M.S., M.B.A. is a Lecturer of Chemistry at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida.