Having found myself once again in several surgery waiting rooms and in different hospitals over the last week, I can’t help but look back on the numbers of hours over my life that I have been in that situation. I have been in hospital waiting rooms as a friend, a pastor, and a family member. There have been times I have been there as a hospital chaplain, caring for complete strangers who are most often there on an emergency basis. In each of these situations, the desires and needs of those waiting can vary greatly.
Some folks just want to be left alone. I respect that, especially because I usually fall into that group myself (although it is helpful to have a friend stop by periodically just to watch my “stuff” while I make a run to the restroom or to get a cup of coffee). Some folks want to be left alone especially by those of the cloth. They don’t want or need Bible thumpers hanging around to, in their eyes, make their bad time worse.
Sometimes folks like or want to pray and want assistance doing that. Other times they don’t want prayers, at least those expressed out loud. Sometimes they just want someone to be present with them, to sit with them in silence or to help initiate conversations to help the time pass. Sometimes they enjoy finding some humor in the midst of the tension.
Sometimes they want to have an additional ear to catch the intricacies of waiting room attendants’ instructions or a doctor’s report. With the hours upon hours of waiting, there are also those moments when information, however clearly and empathetically delivered, is so much and so overwhelming that it’s hard to remember everything or the nuances in which it was spoken, so that even when we think we have it all in our heads (and, at that moment, most probably do) it eludes us when we try to remember everything we were told.
And many times, expressed or unexpressed, we want answers. Some answers come easily. Being familiar with some of these immense health facilities themselves, I know that just being there to direct folks to the restrooms or accompany them to the coffee shop or cafeteria can be helpful. I understand what it’s like to feel like I need to drop bread crumbs as I move from one spot in a hospital to another just so I can find my way back. Keeping an eye on the comings and goings of people around those waiting, even spotting an occasional local celebrity, can be helpful when attempting to divert attentions from loved ones under the knife or even just from the sounds and reminders of the hospital. Yes, even celebrities sometimes find themselves in surgery waiting rooms.
But there are some questions I can’t answer and they are the same questions I have asked. I wonder how it’s going. I wonder what they’re finding. If we are prone to live with worry, there may be an inevitable wondering beyond the immediate moments and hours. What if this surgery doesn’t fix everything? What if they find something they didn’t expect to find? Is/he is going to die? What will I do about that? What are the next steps?
Like many others, I have wondered at times why this is happening to someone I love. And, in those moments of complete self-absorption, we wonder, “Why me?” And if we have any relationship with God at all, the question very well may be, “Why me, Lord?”
That last thought made me scurry to find the words to an old song of that same name written by Kris Kristofferson:
Why me Lord? What have I ever done
To deserve even one of the pleasures I’ve known?
Lord, what did I ever do
That was worth lovin’ You or the kindness You’ve shown.
So, to my surprise, the song isn’t bemoaning the writer’s lot in life, it is recognizing that when we cry out to the Lord (which is entirely acceptable and biblically sound), perhaps our cries of “Why me, Lord?” ought to put the focus on God rather than on ourselves. Why does God bother with us at all and still level abundance upon abundance on us? We take for granted the blessings we have been given and then when we find ourselves in a state of worry (and no one can blame us for caring so deeply about our loved ones) we cry out to God not in thanksgiving, but in lament. It should be the other way around. So thankful should we be for the love given us in our lives that our lament should be turned into thanksgiving.
In an extremely brief conversation with people who took up seats nearby in a large but busy surgery waiting room this week, I learned they were waiting for their 20-year-old son who was undergoing what they hoped would be his final surgery in a process that had been going on for well over a year (that’s a long time in such a young person’s life). In fact, they were not only full of hope, they were convinced of a bright future for the young man. Their smiles had no hint of Pollyanna in them. They were smiles derived from hours upon hours of surgery waiting rooms and worry, but a hope and conviction that all would be well. Clearly, all of their time was not about life and death. It has been about life and life.
Yes, people die. We all die. And that’s another discussion for another time. And a single surgery, even one that lasts for hours, is no guarantee that everything will get fixed or that other surgeries won’t be required.
Waiting rooms are fearful places. They are unnerving locations. They are often lonely and frustrating. But waiting rooms are, more often than not in my experience, places of hope and even celebration. They can be places of worship. They are certainly filled with God’s presence if we are willing to let God join us as we put up our feet, lean back, wait, and rest in the assurance of God’s love.
I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore. – Psalm 121