Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
Sitting in a doctor’s waiting room is not often a pleasant way to pass time, even for a routine visit, but especially so if you don’t know whether you will be getting good news or bad. It’s hard to stop yourself from over-analyzing symptoms and nervously recounting a list of possible diagnoses. In fact, sometimes the longer you spend in the waiting room the worse your symptoms seem to become.
Just before Thanksgiving of last year I made the trip over to the E.N. T. oncology clinic at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for my first appointment with my cancer surgeon – an expert in the area of parotid gland tumors. In preparing for that appointment, I spent a lot of time in prayer, knowing that I might receive news that could be difficult to bear. I didn’t want to sit in the waiting room and fret, as had been my habit in the past. This time I wanted it to be different, because, by God’s grace, I was different.
The Lord has been seriously renovating my character for the past several years, transforming me into a much more faithful Christian. I was now ready, in a way I would not have been a decade ago, to trust the Lord to see me through whatever lay ahead. So, fearfully looking inward, thinking only of my own worries and concerns, was not an option anymore. Doing so would be a flagrant demonstration of unbelief. If the Lord’s job was to heal me, then my job was to trust him to do that while allowing him to use me for his purposes.
So the day before my appointment, as I was reading my Bible, I came across the following verse from Paul’s letter to the Philippians: Let your forbearance be known to all. The Lord is near. (4:5) The more I pondered this verse, the more it seemed to say to me, “Let your hope in Christ be evident.” The Holy Spirit spoke to me through Paul’s words, answering my prayers as I prepared for my doctor’s visit: I was to be God’s agent in the waiting room.
Those who know me well, know that I thoroughly enjoy being an Anglican priest. Give me a congregation and I’m ready to go to work. So as I sat in the waiting room on that morning of my first appointment, with the verse from Philippians running through my head, I viewed the people around me as a “congregation” whom the Lord had set before me. I then prayed for my fellow patients, asking the Holy Spirit to direct my prayers. I made eye contact with those sitting nearby and smiled, with all the hope that was in me, asking silently for the Lord to mend their bodies and their hearts and bring to them the good news of salvation through his son, Jesus Christ.
This time, unlike so many other times while waiting for my name to be called, my attention was not focused inward, with anxious thoughts racing through my head. Instead I was focused on the Lord, letting my hope in him shine through, while the Holy Spirit directed my attention to the people around me and their needs. It was such a relief not to be trapped in a continuous cycle of introspection and worry. I had reached a point in life where I felt secure in God’s hands, so I was free to be God’s agent in the waiting room. And I knew that whatever the concerns of my fellow patients and the E.N.T. staff, Jesus could “make them lie down in green pastures and restore their soul.” (Psalm 23:2) Moreover, I didn’t even need to know any of the details surrounding their worries; I was just supposed to lift them up to the Lord in prayer. The Holy Spirit gave me the words to pray.
It was only by God’s grace that I could look beyond myself and calmly let the Lord direct my attention to those around me. But one doesn’t need to be ordained to experience such grace and serve as God’s agent in a waiting room. He longs for all Christians, everywhere, to look up from their own concerns (by first placing them in his hands) and use that time, instead, in service as his agent. With hearts aglow with hope in Christ they can then pray, as the Holy Spirit directs, for complete strangers to find a similar trust in the Lord. If each of us did this in whatever public space in which we find ourselves waiting, it would transform that space into holy ground.
In the end, I did receive news that was difficult to bear when I saw my surgeon that morning. But my experience of ministering to the “congregation” in the waiting room was good preparation. So instead of sinking in a sea of anxiety, I cast again, all my cares on him.
Next post in this series: a look back over the remarkable – indeed, miraculous – healing the Lord has done in my life.