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Spirituality in Nursing

Spirituality, Defined

Published September 15, 2015 10:44 AM by Mark Darby

Defining spirituality can be done in such a way that it does not raise controversy. If I define spirituality as "Whatever is not the mind and the body", everyone could agree on this definition but it would be totally useless and frankly silly.

Spirituality is important. Therefore, as with anything important, definition creates controversy.  For some, spirituality is centered on a place, like Mecca, or a book, like the Torah.  Some reject organized religion or a deity and look for a definition inside themselves. For researchers, spirituality must be measured. How often do you go to church? How often do you pray? For others, measuring spirituality kills it.

In the nursing literature some have argued that health care occurs in a public space that is particularly secular and that all the effects of spirituality can be explained with psychology. Others argue for a Christian Western perspective linking spirituality to a particular religion. Others argue that we must honor diversity and not mention religion, as if spirituality excludes religion.

All these points of view come to bear when you attempt to define spirituality. As soon as you put one definition forward, someone will say "What about this?"

But let me give it a shot. An old story about nurses helped me define spirituality. The Nurse Midwives in Exodus Chapter 1, Shipporah and Puah, successfully resisted Pharaoh's Command to commit genocide because of their "Fear of God."

The original word used for Fear of God is "Yirah." Yirah can be translated as "God's Perspective". These Nurse Midwives saw their problem from God's Perspective and used this point of view to engage and work through an insoluble problem. For me, spirituality has two characteristics -perspective and engagement which flow from a relationship with a Supreme Being. I define spirituality as that which enables me to see the world from God's Perspective and gives me the courage and hope to use that perspective to work through the insoluble problems I face as a nurse.

My definition gives me enough confidence to accept and encourage diverse opinions and yet still be able to use spirituality in my practice without timidity. While I don't have a blood test for spirituality, I have seen its effects in patients and co-workers and think this definition accounts for what I have seen.

Spirituality is best discovered through story. Share a story with us that illustrates your definition of spirituality.


A spiritual writer once said that God is paradox . In healthcare, spirituality is the response to the

October 13, 2016 10:09 AM


Yes my definition does leave out Buddhists but that is not meant to exclude the validity of their spirituality.  Rather, I see God as a large tent with a wide door. I am proud of my belief and yet I value different spiritualties.   I have had had comments on this blog, both private and public, which are very definite about spirituality eg Spirituality is this particular denomination or church and I do not think that is valid.

Also as healthcare professionals who minister to a wide variety of people who can be Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Muslin, Agnostic or Atheist in my job I have to show tolerance.  I think plurality, which is a value of this county espouses but does not always live up to, is a strength.

Mark Darby November 10, 2015 9:53 PM

The beauty of belief in God and the development of faith is that it is freely available to all. The challenges we face in life are numerous and unpredictable. What we can rely upon is God. From one nurse to another, you are genuinely and sincerely, in my prayers for health and healing.

God Bless,

Cheryl Green

Cheryl Green, Academia - RN Professor/CNL, Southern CT State University and Yale-New Haven Ho October 11, 2015 7:22 PM
Hamden CT

Hello Mark, and thanks for this thoughtful attempt at describing this elusive principle in our lives called spirituality. I have to disagree however, because relying on a Supreme Being for this perspective leaves over one billion Buddhists without spirituality. I offer this first attempt at a definition: that dimension of our core values and sense of personal meaning informed by and aligned with our profoundest understanding of reality. All the best, Daniel

Daniel Fernandez, Hospice - RN October 9, 2015 5:41 PM
Santa Cruz CA

Excellent insight and definition, Mark Darby.  A person's fear of God could prevent them from doing wrong at work as well as in their personal life. People choose not to abort their unwanted pregnancies or have sexual relations outside of marriage because of respect (fear) of God. People try to treat others as they want to be treated and to live a life that honors Someone (their Creator) out of love for how much they feel loved by Him. If a person does not know how much they are loved by Him, they deserve and need more love and compassion from us, not less. We can be His ministering heart to them but we cannot be His justice; that is His job only. My first  job is to represent Him daily. I do that through the manner in which I regard others. But in order to represent Him, it takes intimacy with Him. Thanks for letting me share!

Violet Rawlins, school district - treatment nurse, Visalia Unified October 9, 2015 3:14 PM
Exeter CA

The Spirit in within us, given to us freely when Jesus died on the cross. We must communicate with the spirit through prayer and the Word of God (the Bible). Galatians 5: 22-23 tells us about the fruit of the spirit. This does not come easy and must be practiced. One must have faith in God that he can do all things. Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Whatever we are faced with in life, we need to have faith. Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God. Challenge yourself daily to practice the fruit of the spirit. Through the spirit that is in you as a nurse, a soul can be saved.

Adrienne, Home Health - Director of Quality September 18, 2015 1:15 PM
Cranston RI

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