I paced the floor of our second-floor hospital room. By this point, the collages that adorned the hallways were chiseled into my memory. The now familiar red-framed windows seemed more like prison bars preventing our escape than portals providing God’s gift of sunlight. It had been several months since Carson had been admitted to the hospital, but a fever above 100.4 and low blood counts left him vulnerable to septic shock. In all likelihood, his symptoms were the result of a virus, but the possibility of an infection requires extra precautions when you’re fighting childhood cancer.
It happened more than once.
This particular occasion was not only unplanned, but it also left me scurrying to adjust my schedule and responsibilities back home. Because we were in Memphis for Carson’s weekly chemotherapy, I expected a routine turnaround that would have us home in less than 36 hours. When he spiked a fever during our stay, however, our overnight trip became a weeklong stay.
Carson was putting a puzzle together on the tray from which he ate his meals in bed. The muffle of a ballgame on television played in the background, but I was oblivious to my surroundings. Anxious to get home as soon as possible, I was thankful when our nurse opened the door to our room. My enthusiasm was short lived. She soon explained that Carson’s immunity level wasn’t rising, and we would need to stay in Memphis for a bit longer. In a fit of exasperation, I mumbled to myself, “How much longer will we have to wait!”
Why is waiting so hard?
Perhaps I’ve met someone along the way who enjoys waiting, but I don’t recall it. Being in limbo tests our sanity and prolonged delays can even cause us to doubt the Lord. No explanation is exhaustive because our motivations are often complicated. I do believe, however, that three realizations are often at the root of our impatience when life doesn’t go as planned.
Waiting shatters the myth that we are in control. Juggling schedules, meeting deadlines, and monitoring results gives us the impression that are at the helm of our universe. Do you have a goal? Just work harder. Do you have a problem? Do something about it. Choose your destiny. Seize the day. Claim your reality. Mantras like these resonate with us precisely because we yearn to be in charge and are willing to play along. But deep down, we know it is all a lie. Nothing interrupts our fantasy like a prolonged sense of helplessness.
Waiting often unleashes our deepest fears. Where are You, God? What are You doing, God? Why won’t You answer me, God? Questions like these seldom accost us when everything unfolds according to schedule. At the first sign that God is not at our beck and call, though, we are quick to question His wisdom and doubt His concern. Periods of vulnerability leave us unwanted time to think, and the silence uncomfortably shouts over the peace God bestows. Anxieties that are normally held in check sometimes wreak havoc on us while we wait.
Waiting reveals our true priorities. Most people would be insulted if you accused them of being slaves to their work. Neither are we anxious to admit that we are puppets guided by the hand of public perception and opinion. Nor do we fancy ourselves as materialistic or self-centered. Unfortunately, seasons of waiting often tell a different story. Though interruptions force us to peel away all that is unnecessary in our lives, our unwillingness to do so may reveal that we value the wrong things. When the world goes on while our hands are tied, we realize just how much we idolize the accolades and possessions we pretend not to seek. Despite our affirmations that God is trustworthy and that sanctification is priority, childish outbursts and temper tantrums uncover our true agenda.
Each of these insecurities haunted me repeatedly throughout our three years at St. Jude, and especially during the aforementioned hospital stay. Thankfully, neither I, nor you, are alone in our struggle to wait on the Lord. During a painful time of testing, King David once called out to the Lord with desperation in Psalm 4:
Answer me when I call, O God! (v1)
Be gracious to me! (v1)
Hear my prayer! (v1)
Then, with supernatural clarity, David realized that his wait would be worth it.
Tremble and do not sin. (v4)
Meditate in your heart . . . and be still. (v4)
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness. (v4)
Trust in the Lord. (v4)
Slowly, I am learning that the benefits of waiting on the Lord far exceed the inconveniences. With a loss of control, comes the peace of resting in our Savior (Psalm 26:3-4). The discomfort of facing our fears and enduring difficulties unleashes the strength of God in our lives (2 Cor. 12:9). Exposing misplaced priorities opens the door for renewed commitment to the Lord (Psalm 32:5).
God continues to use the crucible of uncertainty in my life. I am confident He will do the same for you. He is eager to renew our strength, if only we are willing to wait upon Him (Isaiah 40:31).