I don’t think I have ever spent as much time in the waiting room of life as I have this past year. I can’t do this until that is done and that can’t be done until this, that, and those show up, but are they dependent on the receipt of a report, which appears to be lost.
In the old days I used to wail loud and long about circumstances like this. Now I wail soft and short. I’m not good at waiting in total joyful trust yet, but at least it’s an improvement. The only reason transformation, such as it is, has been able to gradually take place in my life is because I am learning to quit appealing for rescue from people who have no better clue about how to fix things than I do, and because I’m finally figuring out there are better questions to ask than “why.”
I’m learning to ask “what?” and “how?” What do you want me to see about who you are, Lord? How will this circumstance allow me to practise a new skill or a character quality that needs strengthening? What resources have you already provided that I haven’t picked up yet? And (please) where are they?
I’m not sure that this season of camping out in waiting rooms is as much about developing patience or endurance as it about addressing my trust issues. Some of these waiting experiences have been preceded by phone calls like, “This is Dr. McUnknown’s office at the Cancer Center in Calgary. He needs to talk to you right away about your test results. We suggest you bring a family member or close friend with you.”
“Cancer Center? Why do I need to see a doctor at the Cancer Center?” I ask. “What was wrong with my test?”
“I can’t tell you, but we received a referral from Dr. Unreachable this morning. Dr. McUnknown needs to see you as soon as possible and his next available appointment is…oh dear… he doesn’t have anything open for four weeks.”
I hate not knowing. Hate it. But that is where the Lord has been sticking his diagnostic finger. He presses on the spot that shrieks when it’s not in control and asks, “Does that hurt?”
“Are you kidding me? You know it hurts!” I gasp.
“Just pointing out the area of your next healing,” he says.
Then the clean-up starts. “You’re hanging on to some ideas that aren’t working for you. Let’s just toss them, shall we?”
This has also been a year of living in temporary dwellings like hotels, relatives’ homes, and hospitals because I’ve had to travel for tests and treatment. A flood that rose up in our town in February resulted in movers, hired by the insurance company, invading our house to pack and stash our belongings in boxes. They hauled them away to a storage facility somewhere while we waited – and waited — for contractors and trades people to have time to repair our house. We have lived, temporarily, in half our house while we waited for restoration crews to arrive — as did over a thousand neighbours who also needed repairs done. Some still wait as we head into winter again.
The tradesmen finished their work last week. The movers returned our boxes and furniture on Monday. But I am still recovering from surgery and can’t lift anything. Friends volunteer to help, and they are wonderful, but it’s a massive confused muddle in my house right now. So many things are “just placed here for now.”
I look around and see many people in the same waiting room of life. They are in transition watching plans unravel. We need to be reminded that although it may not feel like it, the waiting room is always a temporary experience.
Some of our friends have given up their own places and independent ways of life to live with and care for a needy family member. They know the situation is temporary, and yet they have mixed feelings: fears about it ending soon and fears about it not ending soon. I hear from former students who have finished highly prized university degrees. They have career aspirations but in the meantime, they have needed to take temporary jobs in temporary cities to start paying back student loans. To them it feels as if life is on hold.
Some friends wait for court dates, for vindications to be published, for settlements to be paid, for zoning bylaws to be changed, for permits to be issued, for grants to be granted. Others face the giant upheaval of divorce or death of a spouse, unable to move on emotionally, or even physically, until a barrage of financial and other legal details have been settled.
Some long for their soulmate to hurry and show up. Some wait eagerly for babies to arrive and some, just as eagerly, wait for grown kids to leave. Many people are waiting for promises to be fulfilled, looking for hope in the midst of reversals, living in the frustrating now-what zone in the middle of the land of not-yet .
Friends who are also in the process of getting a diagnoses and treatment plan or praying in all faith for healing tell me they also know the waiting room and that feeling of staring out the window muttering, “You’ve got to be kidding,” when hours stretch into months or years. I meet many people who, like myself, are in a season of waiting for recovery – from surgery, from trauma, from accidents, from illness, from burnout, from bankruptcy, from bereavement.
Waiting, waiting, waiting. Who knew we would spend so many hours in the waiting room of life?
I’m beginning to understand that life doesn’t stop in this place. “Temporary” may actually be where most of life is lived. It’s not a nothing time. This is a refining time. We need more training to cope with good times than we do for difficult times.
In hard times, when it finally dawns on us that we can’t control everything, we turn to a higher power and learn that when we are weak He is strong. In good times the temptation is to think that our own efforts achieved the goal and we tend to forget to rely on God. The waiting room can purge us from a sense of immature entitlement and replace it with a sense of gratitude that connects us to the heart of our heavenly Father, if we let it. This is where deep relationship is formed.
The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.
(Proverbs 21:31 NLT)
This morning Facebook reminded me of an old post I wrote when my granddaughter was about three years old. I enjoyed her ability to give directions around her city when I was babysitting for a few days.
“Go past the tower (tall building) and wait for the green light. Then turn and go past Costco and there it is – Walmart!”
This amused me, so when we needed groceries after her swimming lessons I asked for directions to Superstore.
“Nana, have you been to Superstore before?”
“Then look into your memory and you can find the way there all by yourself.”
Today I face another battle where the odds are seemingly against me. I’m doing much better at avoiding panic this time, but I needed this prompt to remind me to look into my memory and acknowledge the times when we did all we could – and it was not enough. But God took what ever preparations we made and did something greater than we ever could have imagined.
Resting in the Lord is not about passively flopping on the ground and awaiting rescue. We pick up our five smooth stones, gather as many empty vessels as we can, prepare a sacrifice on an altar, stand before Pharaoh’s armies with nothing but a stick, march around a city seven times, pick up our beds, walk all the way to Damascus to pray for a guy who wants to kill us. We make preparations, we prepare the horse for the day of battle (again), but we know that the victory belongs to the Lord.
Don’t be afraid, I am with you; don’t give way, for I am your God. I strengthen you and I help you; I uphold you with the right hand of my justice. (Isaiah 41:10)
Don’t be afraid, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name, you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1)
When he was only two years old and his daddy appeared to be dying in the hospital our little grandson looked into his Mommy’s eyes and said, “We don’t hass to be afraid. We don’t hass to be afraid, Momma, ’cause Jesus is wiss us!”
Sometimes when I look at all the things in my character that need fixing I feel overwhelmed. The word I feel the Lord has given me for this year is “instill.” I want the concepts I have learned about the goodness of God and how much he loves me to be instilled in my heart so my first reaction is trust. I get there eventually but my “knee-jerk reactions” need revision before I open my mouth. When I wonder how long it will take I remember the reaction of a child barely old enough to talk.
Sometimes this journey is not as much about overcoming obstacles as returning to the faith of a child. Restoration is recovering the pure undivided heart of a little one who knows what it is to trust.
Yesterday my grandson’s Daddy taught him how to skate. He learned to balance and glide and turn on the ice rink Daddy built for his children in the backyard. There was much joy!
There are times on this road when we run into ambushes and a hail of arrows comes out of nowhere. Accusations. Misunderstanding. Jealousy. Lies. Slander. Outright hatred.
The thing about an ambush is that it is meant to catch you off-guard with your shield down. That’s why the source of them is often a shock. David wrote in Psalm 55: “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshippers.”
I sometimes wonder if this close friend was Jonathan.
It’s happened again. I spent another restless night vacillating between what-did-I-say incredulity and forming I-should-have-said arguments with someone who was not even there. My actions were completely misunderstood and the fiery darts aimed at my head remind me of the time I accidentally leaned too close to the Bunsen burner in chem class. Ka-ploof!
I’ve said a lot of stupid things in my time. I’ve been guilty of monopolizing a conversation, of not taking enough time to understand another person’s point of view before responding, of trying to fix people who believed I was the one who needed to be fixed. I deserved a blast of “correction” in those circumstances. But this time my attempts to respond to a cry for help and to extend love stirred up a pocket of hatred which, although it comes from a source totally unrelated to me, is now aimed at me like I personally started World War II. And World War I. And the Black Plague.
I realized I was falling into the trap of being defensive, and entrenching myself in a position which is not what I really believe about who I am nor about who the other person is. I poured out my heart to the Lord.
“Remember what I told you? ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
So what do I do about this pain?
The first thing I saw this morning when I checked my messages was a short video by Tera Carissa Hodges posted by a friend. She was sharing something God showed her in the incident after Paul was shipwrecked on an island. While gathering firewood a poisonous snake latched onto his hand. The people’s reaction was that he must have been an evil person after all and this was something he deserved. “Karma”, if you like. In dream symbolism a snake can represent aggressive lies.
He shook it off. The poison had no effect on him. Instead the people marvelled and responded to the good news of the Kingdom of God revealed in Jesus. She entitled the video “Shake it off.”
Those were the words that stood out in answer to my question: Shake. It. Off.
Sometimes I walk around with those stupid arrows of cruel words stuck in me for far too long. I watch little children at the beach smash each other over the head with little plastic shovels. They cry, they forgive, they shake the sand from their hair and get on with life. Ten minutes later they are building something fabulous together — or somebody’s mom steps in.
Have you been unfairly attacked by someone close to you when you thought you were in a safe place?
Shake it off. God has plans even for this. You are his beloved child.
I remember those wonderful summer days at the lake. Around about five o’clock families would pick up their toys and towels and wander off to prepare supper. If I was lucky I could stay there while the others slap-slapped their way up the trail to the camper in their flip-flop sandals. Sometimes in that transitional space between hours I had the dock to myself.
I trailed my hand in the cool water, smelling the scent of damp wood against my cheek and felt the gritty sand drying on my legs as I lay on my stomach on the gently rocking wooden island. A lull stretched beyond the distant sounds of swings clanging in the park and canoes scraping the pebbles on the shore. Smoke from barbecues leaked out from between tree branches and drifted heavenward like summer worship.
I had no profound thoughts, no plans, no particular emotion. The dock was like an island in time.
That’s kind of how I feel this week. After the drama and trauma of the deaths and funerals of both my Dad and my brother-in-law in less than two months I am tired, but not overwhelmed. I believe both of them are with the Lord. But I don’t have the energy to either celebrate or cry right now.
It feels like Jesus is just sitting quietly here with me like a close friend, making no demands, requiring no soothing of his own emotions, making no particular suggestions about what I should do next. I’m tired, but I’m OK. We’re OK.
In a while Mom will call me to put on some dry clothes and help set the table. There will probably be some game involving a ball or frisbee that the boys want me to join in on later. Dad will lay down his novel and get up from his lawn chair to chop wood for the fire we will sit around when the crickets sing in the darkness. Tomorrow we pack up and drive back to the city and get back to work.
But for now, on this little square island, there is only the sound of the waves lapping the planks, and the gentle sun pressing its comfort into my stretched out body, and I am at peace.
Tough day. My husband’s younger brother succumbed to lung disease yesterday. The news was so hopeful a little while ago, but he suddenly went downhill. The doctors said they found previously undetected small cell lung cancer that left him too weak to fight an acute illness. His family and friends surrounded him and wept as his heartbeat faded.
I am thankful for our 11-year old grandson who reminded us that even in this there is hope.
Today we try to work on funeral plans with his wife. We can’t speak Spanish and she can’t speak English. Bob was always the translator.
Today we try to comfort his mother, who seems even more frail with the shock and we live in a conversation on replay.
Today we try to gather up legal loose ends and financial unknowns. We step on each others toes in our efforts to step in to the empty spaces.
Today we wince as individual ways of handling grief clang against each other.
Today we can still be glad, as our grandson pointed out, that we have a close family that cares. They immediately gathered from across the country when they heard the news.
Today we can be glad, as our grandson pointed out, that we know Jesus, and that Uncle Bob knew about his grace.
“You know, when you think about it, this is really a happy day for Uncle Bob,” our grandson said in the ICU waiting room. “Today is the day when he will see how wonderful heaven is and get to be with Jesus.”
There is hope.
And then one day, I’ll cross that river.
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain.
And then as death gives way to victory,
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives.
(from Because He Lives by Bill and Gloria Gaither)
His divine power has given us everything we need to experience life and to reflect God’s true nature through the knowledge of the One who called us by His glory and virtue. Through these things, we have received God’s great and valuable promises, so we might escape the corruption of worldly desires and share in the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:3,4 The Voice)
I knew a dear lady who became profoundly disappointed with God. She made a bargain with him, that if she threw herself into church work to the edge of her physical energy he would give her the desires of her heart — a husband and children. He didn’t keep up his end. When menopause hit and she realized she would never have a child and would probably remain single she was devastated. Her hope was the hope that disappoints.
I’ve realized lately that many of us test God with our presumptions. We tend to present him with bargains of our own design and don’t hang around long enough to find out if he agrees. It hit me last night that praise and worship services can fall into this category as well. I went to a large gathering of believers at a conference not long ago. I was really looking forward to it because I had heard stories about how “God showed up” last year. I had hoped that if I joined in singing loud rock-style praise songs for 55 minutes, if I knelt or waved a flag or swayed or shouted, whatever, I would feel experience a sense of God showing up — because it happened to those guys over there.
I felt nothing and was profoundly disappointed because I had thrown my whole heart into it. Other people seemed to be experiencing some sort of ecstatic moment while I felt nothing.
The truth is, I was presenting God with a bargain presuming that he would agree to it. “If I move out of my comfort zone and really get into this music even though it is a style and volume I personally find irritating, if I stretch out of my introverted personality and do things I fear would draw uncomfortable attention, if I sacrifice my time and money to be here, You will give me the desires of my heart, right, Lord? Because this is the way praise and worship is done, right? Because if You are pleased with my efforts You will take away the feelings that come with burying my dad yesterday and fill me with happy happy joy joy and allow me to experience Your Presence, right? ”
Can I confess I was actually angry when I left? I spent days wondering what is wrong with me that I was more aware of an out-of-tune guitar string than the majesty of God. Then I remembered an experience I had in Israel.
I was standing in the shell of an abandoned building in Gibeah — that place that was known as “The School of the Prophets” in the time of Samuel. I was excited when I found out this would be included on the itinerary, because the story in the Bible was that the presence of God was so strong there that even King Saul prophesied. I was secretly hoping for some special experience — at least some goose bumps.
The same thing at Bethel… and Shiloh… and Jerusalem. I told the Lord I was disappointed I didn’t have a sense of his presence there. That’s when I felt him say, “Because I’m not there. I’m in you now.”
In the past God has made his presence known in a burning bush, in a wind, in a voice like thunder, and in other ways. I believe that he has delighted the hearts of many people who have gotten together to offer him full-out singing and playing, but he doesn’t visit them by “showing up” like he did for a few in the Old Covenant. He inhabits them now. We are his temple. Worship is not something we do to earn a feeling. Using singing-style worship to manipulate our emotions so we can escape the unpleasant ones is making ourselves the object of worship. If I feel good this must be God, right? No. I was treating a praise and worship service like a drug.
I was wrong.
It made me re-think the point of actions we turn into rituals. It’s like giving a loved one the same birthday gift every year because we remember how happy their reaction made us feel the first time we gave it to them. We sensed God`s pleasure and his presence in us when our hearts turned to him and we expressed it through contemporary music. Now every meeting starts with obligatory rituals of a praise band and repeated choruses — because that worked before. For those whose hearts are in the right place it still does, but it’s not the method that connects them; it’s the heart.
Yesterday I read Psalm 109. It is not a feel-good psalm. In fact it’s rather embarrassing the way David spills out his feelings. I wish that one had been edited out. But in spite of his intense anger, grief, and disappointment, the psalmist offers the sacrifice of his right to want revenge and offers it to God.
Perhaps that is what would have made a finer gift of praise that day at the conference — my tears, my grief for what would never be on this earth ( a fully restored relationship with my dad), my honest feelings — the pure distilled worship of lament that says, Nevertheless I will give You first place in my heart because I choose to trust You. Christ is in me, and right in the middle of my disappointments You continue to show me the hope of glory.
Worship is acknowledging that God is God and he is good. And that does not require a sound system.