A few years ago, when I was recovering from an outpatient surgery, I was struck with a violent and all-encompassing headache. At the suggestion of my surgeon, I was taken to the emergency room for further examination.
It was a cold and snowy February day in Chicago. As my mom and I walked into the waiting room, we had a strange feeling that everyone in the greater Chicago area had called one another and agreed to visit the ER at the same time. It looked like a Pain Party at the emergency room—it was time to get comfortable because we were all going to be there for a while.
As I settled into the unforgiving waiting room chair, I remember feeling afraid. I was in an immense amount of pain, and all the outcomes I could think of regarding my condition were amongst the worst-case scenarios. I sat very still, my mom at my side, as I internally willed the line to move faster.
Several minutes later, an elderly couple entered the waiting room. The man shuffled to the front desk to check in while the woman laid down on one of the stiff beige couches.
Everyone in the waiting room noticed the couple because the woman was in audible pain. Although she tried to keep her composure, it was obvious that she needed help.
I do not know the nature of her illness, but I do remember the nearly tangible sense of discomfort in the room as the emergency room personnel had this woman wait her turn in the order of her arrival, just like the rest of us. As the sick and hurting among us began to realize that this woman would not be receiving immediate care, hurried and concerned whispers grew louder. We looked over at her, feeble and grimacing on that stiff beige couch, collectively feeling a sense of urgency on her behalf.
When a nurse arrived, yelling the name of the next patient to be seen, we all sat completely still—first looking at the nurse, then to the old woman, and back at the nurse. We know there is an order to how this all works here in the ER, but this woman had us desiring a shuffle in the order. Finally, in a stunning display of humanity, the patient whose name was called walked up to the nurse and spoke the words we all wanted to say.
We smiled through our pain and offered nods of agreement and gratefulness to the patient who requested the woman on the couch be seen first. On that cold and snowy February day, a room of sick and hurting people, who were waiting for relief, put the needs of a fellow stranger above their own. It was love in action, all while we were sitting still.
Advent is a season defined by waiting. During this time, we grow in our awareness for what is and what is still to come. We are here, hurting and ill—it is relational conflict, social injustice, infertility, or chronic pain. We are suffering, be it from cancer, heartache, or fear. We are in need of our Savior, and that Savior is here with us, but is also still to come (Rev. 1:8).
During Advent, we recognize and prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth while, expectant and hopeful, we anticipate Christ’s return. His return will mark the end of all the lines—the waiting rooms will be emptied, and the sick and hurting will be healed and whole.
When we hold on to our faith, we hold on to the belief that there will be a day when we are forever healed from our wounds. Until that day comes, we wait with grace and anticipation. This Advent, may we remember that this version of a waiting room we are in—this life of ours on earth—is not stagnant. We are not to sit still until our name is called; we are to be active and spirited as we await our arrival into life eternal.
None of us are exempt from illness or hardship; we certainly all need to be seen and cared for. How, though, can we take notice of the ones whose condition is more critical than ours? How can we create an everyday “waiting room” that makes movement for the sake of the sick and hurting around us?
Not long after the woman on the stiff beige couch was taken into the hospital, my name was called. Thankfully, my condition turned out to be nothing serious, but I haven’t forgotten about that couple that bypassed a line at the demand of those in the line. That day, we all ended up getting the help we needed; we just chose to make adjustments to the waiting period for those who needed more immediate care and relief.
We’re all in need of the same Savior. This Advent season, we recognize our wait—some of us more aware of our anticipation than others. As we wait for eternal healing, may we notice those who are aching, afraid, and behind us in line. In this season, when political unrest and divisiveness is loud, how can we shuffle things up in order to allow the most critically hurt, fearful, or marginalized among us to be cared for?
May we have eyes to see those who are hurting and hearts to act on their behalf so that they may receive care. Dear God, let our waiting move lines and speak love.