I am Afraid. Please Pray for Me.

by tnbutterfly, BSN, RN Admin | 12,244 Views | 34 Comments

What would your reaction be if your patient asked you to pray with them? Would you feel uncomfortable? Would you be able to grant his/her request? When is it OK to pray with a patient? How should we pray? What can you do as a nurse to support the spiritual needs of your patient.

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    I am Afraid.  Please Pray for Me.

    Many of us view the healthcare setting as a place of employment where we we are comfortable. To patients, however, this medical setting is a maze with frightening and uncertain twists and turns, ups and downs into which they have entered, usually not by choice. They do not know the language, and quite often do not get adequate interpretation to fully understand their condition. This is especially frightening when they are called upon to make monumental decisions that can have life-changing consequences.

    As nurses, we become part of their hospital experience. We have the opportunity to walk beside patients and their families as they travel down the complicated healthcare pathway. They grow to trust the nurses who care for them looking to them for information and support. Many times they are seeking spiritual support during these stressful times. When faced with serious or life-threatening medical conditions, patients and their family members are more likely to turn to their faith to cope with the associated anxieties. Sometimes they seek the help of the healthcare team to meet their spiritual needs.

    In my job as a Parish Nurse, I encounter requests for prayer quite frequently from patients, families, and other healthcare staff. One of my main roles as a parish nurse is to address and meet the spiritual needs of the patient, both in and out of the hospital setting. I have been very blessed and privileged to to have the opportunity to walk alongside individuals and families as they face difficult decisions regarding healthcare. Many times this happens when trying to decide appropriate treatment in crisis situations. At times requests come to pray with family members when they are trying to decide whether or not to terminate treatment when the prognosis looks grim

    At these times I will talk with them and listen to their concerns and questions. I cannot always give them the answers they are searching for, but I can try to be a calming presence with a shoulder to lean on, a listening ear, or a gentle touch. And I can certainly pray with them upon their request or with their permission.

    What would your reaction be if your patient or the patient’s family asked you to pray with them? Many nurses will feel comfortable and confident enough to pray with patients as well as to listen to their spiritual concerns. Others may be willing to pray but are uncomfortable. Still others would be more comfortable seeking the services of the hospital chaplain.

    Following are some things nurses need to remember when praying with patients.

    • It is not appropriate to pray aloud with/for every patient without patient request. If the patient requests prayer, talk with them to determine how they would prefer to pray. Some may want to pray silently, others will want to pray out loud in the nurse’s presence. Others will want to nurse to lead the prayer, while others may ask the nurse to keep remember them in their prayers. “Would you like a spoken or unspoken prayer?”
    • In order to provide respectful care, it is necessary to refrain from using the clinical setting or professional authority to promote any type of religion or particular spiritual practices. Be attuned to the patient’s spiritual beliefs and use that as a guideline. Do not use this as an opportunity to proselytize.
    • Clarify with the patient what will be most helpful. Don’t assume you know what they need or want. Ask the patient what they would like for you to pray for or about. “For what would you like me to pray?”


    Whether or not nurses should pray with patients has been the topic of much controversy. Meeting the spiritual needs of patients is definitely part of the nurse’s responsibilities as she/he attempts to provide holistic care. These needs may be fulfilled directly by the nurse or via referral to the chaplain or clergy of the patient’s choice.

    When praying with the patient, always be respectful of their beliefs, don’t assume you know what they want or need, and certainly do not impose your beliefs upon them. Always examine your motives for praying and ask yourself.....”Whose needs am I trying to meet?”

    To read more articles, such as When Nurses Cry, go to my AN blog: Body, Mind, and Soul
    Last edit by Joe V on Nov 18, '12
    timmedico, Esme12, NRSKarenRN, and 10 others like this.
  2. About tnbutterfly, BSN, RN

    tnbutterfly has been in nursing for more than 30 years, with experience in med-surg, pediatrics, psychiatrics, and disaster nursing. She is currently a parish nurse.....a position which she has had for the past 15 years.

    tnbutterfly has 'More than 35 years' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'Parish Nsg, Disaster Nsg, Peds, Med-Surg'. From 'TN'; Joined Jun '06; Posts: 22,138; Likes: 12,675.

    Read more articles from tnbutterfly

    34 Comments so far...

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    This is a lovely article. I find that for the setting that I am in, I do offer to contact the patient's own religious practioner, the hospital chaplain, or whomever they would like. I give time and room to practice any ceremonial tradition/ritual that they need to. We discuss a shared goal of calm and peaceful and serenity. I will pray for you, I will light a candle for you or you are in my thoughts for courage and strength is most apporopriate for me. Should someone want to pray with a patient, I feel as if that is an intimacy that unless the nurse is of the same belief system may not be authentic. And a goal for a dying patient would be a sense of calmness and light. A parish nurse is an alternate care provider, and I would be the first one to call you. Seeing to the comfort and serenity of my patient would be my first goal.
    VivaLasViejas, tokmom, and tnbutterfly like this.
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    Great article. Thanks for giving information on a difficult subject.
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    One of my most unforgettable experiences with prayer happened at my first nursing job. We had a 53-year-old patient who was dying of pulmonary fibrosis; her family and friends gathered around her bed in a circle, and they invited me to join them in praying for her. I felt honored by this request, and so I did. Somewhere in the facility a radio was playing "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" from The Lion King. Oh yes, I could feel that energy in the room as we held hands and prayed for an easy journey to Heaven.....and she slipped away silently just as her priest said the final prayer of the Last Sacrament. I'll carry that memory to my own grave.
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    Great article. Thanks.
    I am Roman Catholic w/Shintoist leanings (our Quichua family retains many of the old beliefs as well), so we are very eclectic. I would be fine praying w/others of different beliefs and religions if that is what they require to attain some sense of relief.
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    It is wild that our sermon today was on how sad it would be to have no one lifting you up in prayer.

    So many people facing overwhelming obstacles in their lives, and the horrid thought of them facing it alone is Boston's worst fear! I was blessed growing up, to always have someone there to putt a bandaid on me, pat the dust off of me when I fell flat-face-first, or became spiritually near death from all that we see.

    I had a small young boy enter the Emergency Room one night, having an exacerbation of Cystic Fibrosis, and obviously at the end of struggle. He was a preteen resident of a local Boys Home, and I had taken care of him on multiple visits. He said the the worst battles he fought were with loneliness, fear, and nightmares. I asked him what I could do to make him less afraid(leave a light on, leave the curtain open, or roll the TV into his compartment).

    He said, "just when your doing your paperwork, or not busy, will you set by me, I won't bother you."

    I was heartbroken this beautiful child had no one, how courageous a young man who had experienced such hardship to admit he was lonely and scared. I know this is a small example of nursing a patients spiritual needs, but it's amazing what healing power there is in silence, how therapeutic it can be to your patient's spiritual health by just being their.

    You all probably know if you know me, silence was a hard skill to master. I thought that this therapeutic communication skill was bogus- but once I was able to understand the time and place for it, it is one of the best tools in my Nursing Toolkit for spiritual wellness, and it works with every faith, religion, agnostic, and atheist patient, because I think every patient has a spiritual health- that if in need of treatment, we should aim to nurse it(and never forget the comfort that just "being there," can bring.
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    I'm not particularly religious, but I have my own beliefs. I've said a few prayers with patient's when asked to pray with them, and I will admit that I'm not good at it, but it comes from the heart, and when someone is on their last stand, it's the least anyone can do for a person. Spiritual wellness is a big part of the healing/dying process for many people, and as nurses, I feel we should be there for our patients, if it makes a nurse feel uncomfortable, be honest with the patient, but assure them, you will find them a chaplain or a small prayer group to fulfill their needs, I work at a Seventh Day Adventist hospital, many nurses are willing to step up if one nurse is not particularly religious or has different beliefs.
    CP2013 and tnbutterfly like this.
  9. 2
    When I worked in the hospital I had several CD's of all faiths.If a patient appeared low I would offer them to pick from the selection By mistake my son's CDs "Chicken Soup for the Littlest Soul " ended up in the mix.Surprisingly, it was a huge hit and pts loved it. t )(Sometimes I noticed pt tearing up listening to it )Perhaps it was it's gentle message that was so soothing.

    I found these tapes were fantastic for pts with confusion or dementia ,it settled them into a peaceful center.The religious hymns with marching beat were great for confused parkinson pts plus it helped stabilize their balance and lift their spirit. (the only down side ::::chuckle :::is when the pts with the head phones sang very loudly...and yeah usually off tune!!

    I myself follow formal doctrine but would happily participate in any religious activity if it would help a pt. All roads lead home,For myself, I believe God looks at our heart,so that all thats needed to celebrate another's faith . I am very holistic so would comfortably do a rain dance if it would make a pt smile !
  10. 8
    I have supported patients in their need for spiritual comfort. Although I am Jewish, I will easily hold the hand of anyone who wants to pray in their own way. When I worked at a Catholic hospital I learned the 'Our Father' simply because I heard it so often. When a patient asked me to pray with her, this prayer just rolled off my lips as though I had been saying it all of life!

    When there was a Wiccan patient in our unit, I was one of the few that willingly took care of her. No one's beliefs have frightened or disgusted me, although I freely admit some curiousity. Don't expect my questions to mean I might convert, though!

    Everyone is entitled to seek comfort in their own way. I hope that we can help them find it.
  11. 4
    Great article about a touchy subject. Thank you for pointing out that a nurse should ONLY bring up religion/prayers if the pt initiates it. I've seen nurses without any provocation just start praying or saying things like "Jesus will save you". Unless the pt directs the conversation down that line, you should keep all that noise bottled up. Many sick people would simply be terrified by a nurse bringing up Jesus and the eternal soul and all that.

    On the other hand, I've seen scared, dying pts ask a nurse if they believe in God and the nurserespond "I'm an atheist." How is that supposed to help? A little white lie in this situation isn't going to hurt anyone. What we (nurses) believe isn't really the point. It's about the patient, not us.
    Hex, jadelpn, MedChica, and 1 other like this.


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