Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you. Hebrews 13:17
There are a lot of people who react negatively to today’s verse of Scripture. Those who don’t like their priest or the President of the United States or their boss or whoever is in authority that they don’t like often voice and objection to the word “submit.” I know from personal study and spiritual discussion, that as a priest, I am going to have to give an accounting for the souls I watch over, the people of the flock I have been entrusted. However, this responsibility and accountability doesn’t apply only to priests, but extends to everyone in a leadership position. At some points in life, we will all be in the position to lead. The followers will put their trust in us. And thus we will all have to account to someone—our boss, our spouse, God—for how we take care of what has been entrusted to us. Because leadership can be such a daunting thing, it is important to remember in esteeming others highly, those who are “over you” (I Thessalonians 5:12-13) need just as much encouragement from the followers, as the followers need encouragement from their leaders.
A few years ago, I needed to have some sinus surgery to correct my breathing. As any patient does who is hospitalized, they “submit” to medical experts to whom they cede control. I submitted my body to them to be put to sleep, to be cut, to be altered and repaired, and to recover. For someone who is a “control freak” this is never an easy task. For someone who has had a lifelong fear of needles (and has had too many surgeries to count), this is still very stressful for me. During my hospitalization, I was tended to by two nurses, Christine (her real name) and Sabrina (not her real name).
As I said above, I have had a lifelong phobia of needles, specifically IV needles. And thankfully, my doctor ordered a sedative so I could be somewhat calm for the IV start. I was met upon my arrival by a nurse named Christine. She took my blood pressure and said “well, this is a tick above normal, but that’s normal, most people in here are nervous.” When I didn’t respond, she said “you look as white as a ghost.” When I still didn’t respond, she said “let’s try this, why don’t you put your own clothes back on, (I had already put a hospital gown on and was laying in the bed, dreading what was coming, and was so nervous, I couldn’t talk), hop off the bed and let’s just talk.” So I did. We sat in chairs like two friends and I told her about my IV fear. She was so calming that I almost let her start it without the prescribed sedative that was very late in arriving. That’s how calming and trustworthy this stranger was quickly becoming, using only encouragement and empathy.
Enter nurse Sabrina, who maybe was having a bad day, I don’t know. She was totally the opposite. She was like “let’s hurry this along, just pop that thing in, what the big deal! Are we going to have to give you gas like a little kid?” Overriding my feelings of being talked down to was hearing the offer of “gas” to go to sleep and then get the IV. That solved my problem! Nurse Sabrina then continued to insist I was taking an unnecessary risk and made me feel even worse about my predicament. She was discouraging and condescending.
Nurse Christine said “I don’t normally go up to the operating room but I’ll go up there with you and start the IV as soon as you slip out of consciousness.” As these two nurses were wheeling me up to the OR, I was more relaxed, knowing that my peculiar issue could be dealt with in a way that wasn’t going to stress me out. I tried to be a little jovial, in fact, especially with Sabrina. I said “I bet you ladies can’t guess what I do for a living.” Sabrina answered with a sarcastic “what do you work in a needle factory or something?” I told them that I was actually a priest who frequently is in the hospital visiting parishioners. But that I struggled when I had to be in the hospital. Christine said to me “You know, I’m a Christian. In fact, Christ is not only part of my life but the first six letters of my name.”
As they were about to send me off to unconsciousness, Christine said to me “you won’t mind if I pray as you slip out,” and I said “of course not.” As I breathed in the gas and drifted off to sleep, the last word I heard was from Nurse Christine, “Jesus.” When I woke up, Nurse Christine was right there, calming, reassuring, encouraging. That day, I happened to be the follower, I submitted to the leader, Nurse Christine, and she rewarded my trust with comfort and encouragement.
I’m not a nurse but I imagine nursing is a stressful job. Maybe Nurse Sabrina was having a bad day. Maybe she didn’t get enough sleep, maybe her boss just yelled at her. I don’t know. And my situation wasn’t an emergency. If it was, I’d be smart enough, I hope, not to be debating or discussing the fine points of how to start an IV. But in the situation I was in, there was time, this wasn’t an emergency, and one nurse’s kindness made all the difference in keeping me calm and confident.
The story doesn’t end there. When I got better, I went back to the hospital to thank Christine in person and give her a small gift as a token of my appreciation for what she had done. I went a step further. I stopped by the administration wing of the hospital, collected the names of all the important people who run the hospital, and wrote each of them a letter telling them how much Christine had done for me, how much I appreciated it and what a great nurse they have on their staff.
The hospital administration was so pleased with what I wrote that they gave Christine an award (which I got to present to her), a raise, and a promotion. Christine later told me that she had worked for the hospital for 28 years and rarely got any kind of positive feedback from her patients. Which is sad. She is a great nurse!
A year later, I needed to have a colonoscopy done and it was at the same hospital. I arranged for Christine to be my nurse and even let her start the IV without a sedative, a major accomplishment for me.
Something great came out of something stressful because of encouragement. Christine encouraged me the first time I was a patient, but because of my gratitude, that was a big dose of encouragement for her. And I got the encouraging behavior to repeat again on my second hospital visit.
The lessons here are three:
- When you are the leader, encourage the followers, because their souls, and in this case, my life, was in her hands.
- When you are a follower and the leader does something right, recognize that. Encourage your leaders. Why? Because leaders need feedback, and specifically positive feedback. People are much quicker to criticize a leader than to thank a leader. And second, because when you praise a leader, you are more likely to motivate that leader to repeat the behavior you liked.
We will all play the role of the patient and the nurse in this story many times in our lives. When we are the nurse, will we take the role of Christine? Or Sabrina? The encourager? Or the discourager? And when we are the patient, will we take time to thank and encourage? Or feel entitled, or ungrateful and forget to thank and encourage?
Lord, thank You for the opportunities I have to be a leader (list areas in your life where you are a leader, like in your house, with your kids, etc.) Help me to be an encouraging leader. Help me also to be a good follower (list areas in your life where you are a follower). Help me to be a loyal follower. Help me to always remember to encourage both the leaders and followers in my life, and to esteem others highly, whoever they may be. Amen.
Encourage someone who is a “leader” in your life today!
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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