The Waiting Room
Music by Brent Olstad (ASCAP)
© 2018 Brent Olstad Music. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.
The following essay by Brent was published in the book "A Different Kind of Courage" and portions were used in "The Beyond Suffering Bible" published through Joni and Friends International.
I dislike waiting rooms. A waiting room is often the prelude to bad news. I remember sitting in a waiting room before the birth of my son, wondering what we were doing there. Before, waiting rooms were mundane places – waiting for the dentist, an annual checkup, or the mechanic. They had no impact on me because they were temporary waits before getting on with my life. This time seemed different. My wife was about 8 months pregnant, and she had some unexplained bleeding. Sitting there, waiting for the ultrasound exam, I was not at ease. Somehow, this wait was not normal. I didn’t know if it would be a mere bump in the road to get our attention, or a major crisis that would grab us, pushing us down an unfamiliar path.
A waiting room is often the prelude to life changing news. Our unborn son was diagnosed with spina bifida, hydrocephalous, and myriads of other complications. My mind couldn’t grasp the full dimension of his diagnoses, but I knew our lives would never be the same. The waiting room became a second home. How strange to sit in a room filled with strangers and hide behind an outdated magazine. I vaguely wonder what circumstances have brought them here, but instead just focus on my existence and problems. Names called by the nurse sound cold and sterile, yet each one who walks through the door is a soul needing care and attention. I don’t have the emotional strength to care, so I wait.
I wait even more after the birth of my son. While wondering if he will live or not, I sit in a room with cold floors, uncomfortable chairs, and stale, old coffee in a Styrofoam cup. The ad on TV says life will be great if I use a certain brand of toothpaste. Time seems to stand still. This waiting room is the prelude to unanswered questions. While I wait, I have ample time to scrutinize each moment of my life in order to create a sense of reason behind what’s happening. I know the error of my ways and the rewards for my efforts. Where is the balance in life—the balance between sorrow and happiness, pain and joy, cause and effect? All I can think of now is my sorrow, my son’s pain, and how I might have caused it. I wonder if I’ll ever feel joy again if my son never will. I wonder if conversation will be meaningful if I’m the only one communicating. I wonder if running to catch a ball will make me feel guilty because my son cannot. I wonder if my relationship with my wife will ever be close and intimate again. There are too many questions.
The most pressing and taxing questions are the medical ones. The waiting room can be a prelude to confusion. There are so many issues I have to attend to. There are too many decisions that have to be made right now. So many responsibilities are being thrust upon me. I break down, then pretend things are not as bad as they really are. I want to find clarity in all the paperwork and verbal instructions being thrown at me, so I choose to hear the good and place the bad information behind a smoke screen. It’s still there - I just don’t want to acknowledge it right now.
I have grown to dislike waiting rooms, and yet…and yet, I am learning about meaningful waiting. The waiting room can be a prelude to opportunities. I have opportunity to commune with God and find peace in his presence. I have opportunity to fill needs in other’s lives by listening and offering insight. Needs are being met through casual conversation. I have opportunity to take stock and make decisions for our future.
My waiting rooms are a prelude to joy. While I wait, I see my child grow – the same one doctors said wasn’t viable. He is causing me to smile, laugh, and shake my head in wonder. He begins to understand humor and tells jokes that are silly and funny. His personality is emerging, and I watch as he interacts with curious hands and watchful eyes. I find my life to be joyous because of his life, and I am also content. There are still times of sadness, questioning why, but I know that our lives are ordered by God, who knows all and sees all. I have assurance and peace.
Now, the waiting room is a reminder of God’s care. Each time my son is weighed and measured it’s a testimony of God’s provision in his life. His body is not like mine, but each time he gets sick, his immune system still works, his blood still flows…he gets well. Every time he goes under the surgeon’s knife I thank God for allowing mankind to grasp a bit of the intricate design of human anatomy. For the times I wait while his equipment is adjusted, I thank God for intelligent men and women who design and manufacture these much-needed aids. There are many needs in his life, many frightening episodes of illness. But the waiting room reminds me that, just as God has seen us through other events, he promises to see us through future episodes as well.
Comfort is in my waiting room. Of all the questions I have about my son, perhaps the weightiest one regards death. I’m not preoccupied with it, but many times I look at him and wonder what it would be like without him now. Then I’m reminded that God promises to comfort those in sorrow, carrying them through difficult times, like in the “Footprints” poem. I’m comforted. Sitting in waiting rooms has opened my eyes to the fact that people are dying. I see lives ebbing away, made evident through emptiness in their eyes, sagging shoulders, pain causing their brow to furrow. I thank God that his presence makes death bearable.
Death is just a prelude to a wonderful life with God, free of pain, free of worry, free from sickness. I picture my son running, jumping, spinning cartwheels, tap dancing, playing the trombone; and I smile. If he should go before I do, I can’t wait to join him and play jazz duets in honor of the God who brought each of us joy and happiness. Isn’t it wonderful? Nothing can take away my assurance of joy, happiness, or comfort, not even death itself. God has a waiting room, and it is found under his wings of love and care. I don’t mind waiting here. (Psalm 91)