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Do No Harm

On gentleness in a tough world

Kimberly Coyle December 22, 2016

I noticed it in the way she smoothed the hair from Kaitlyn’s face. Her fingertips slipped over the sheen of sweat and tucked the girl’s damp curls away from her contorted features. She touched her child’s body with a gentleness I couldn’t summon after two years of being her daughter’s registered nurse. Watching her, I realized I’d lost this sense of tenderness in caring for my patients, while I prided myself on ticking all the task boxes on their charts. Instead of operating out of a spirit of love, I had made efficiency my primary goal.


Each shift, I raced against the clock. I created a chart with every patient’s initials and hourly needs and then spent the next eight hours staring at this scrap of paper that stripped them of their fullness as fellow image bearers. I worked and revised the plan until the patients became the plan, until they no longer needed names, until I knew them only by their malady: Blocked Airway, Gastric Tube, Dirty Diaper. They were problems to solve—projects, not people.

When I gave birth to my own daughter, I mothered her with a gentleness I thought I’d lost while working with medically fragile children. At work, the incessant alarms, tasks, and sense of urgency left me frazzled and frustrated. But with my own child, the world spun on her upstretched hands, each day lit by the sun of her smile.

After she arrived, my thoughts often drifted to the mothers of my patients. As I washed bottoms, changed tubes, and administered feedings, I wondered if those women thought about me, too. Did they know that my new mother-heart now beat to a different rhythm, one that called for a slowing down—a pause, a listening ear, a tender touch? I began to see my hands as instruments of peace. I saw how they could offer an unspoken, limitless grace.

As the demands of family life have grown, I sometimes sense myself sliding from gentleness into false urgency. Hurry, multitasking, and a performance-driven culture are the enemies of a gentle spirit. The world knocks with a constant desire for attention. But if I don’t give in to its demands, if I hold on to my ability to love and serve those around me with tenderness, something extraordinary happens. I witness the heart of Jesus at work—in me, all around me, bringing healing.


Illustration by Lisk Feng

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