Lately at work, I find myself most annoyed at my patients when they refuse to wait.
“I’m waiting to hear back from the doctor,” I say. They call me in asking for results 15 minutes later. Sigh.
“I’ll be back later with your meds,” I say. They call me in asking for medications 10 minutes later. Sigh.
“I’ll be back with a blanket, pillow, and water,” I say. They call me in asking for their things 5 minutes later. Sigh.
Oh, ye patients of little patience. Don’t you know a radiology test takes more than 15 minutes to read? Don’t you know your medications are not due for another hour? Don’t you know I have to assess another patient’s vital bodily functions before taking care of your small physical necessity? Don’t you know I haven’t forgotten you?
I had three of those patients when I floated to a medical step-down unit when I lived in California. Task after task after task required 7 straight hours of my attention. I did not have a break from my night shift until 3am. I was hungry. I was tired. I was beyond annoyed.
Up until 3 am, I took any second of calm to complain to the Lord. It went something like this: “Lord, they’re so annoying. They can’t wait for a minute, and I’m working on other things, and the things they’re whining about are not life-threatening, and I have a headache I’m so tired, and I’m subsisting on Hershey’s Kisses right now I’m so hungry, and oh, and that phone ringing is probably lab with a critical result, and I hate this night! BAH!”
In the middle of all that hot air of a prayer, I forgot to breathe. Finally, at 3am, I took a deep breath.
In that breath, Jesus oh so gently reminded me that I too am impatient.
Instead of test results, I ask Him to explain all the sufferings and hardships in my life and in the world.
Instead of medications, I ask Him to relieve all my anxiety about the past, present, and future right this instant.
Instead of blankets, pillows, and water, I ask Him for money, security, and comfort.
My patients ask me for test results, medications, comfort items because they need something from me that they cannot attain for themselves. In the same way, you and I ask the Lord for something because we cannot attain certain things ourselves.
We save money, build a career, establish ourselves, become comfortable, but despite all our securities, despite all our walls, we cannot guarantee that our future is secure. We cannot attain a secure future for ourselves on our own. We need something, someone, outside ourselves, We need a savior.
As Jesus said when he called Matthew, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.” (Luke 5:31-32)
I’m no physician, but I know as a nurse, I never forget a patient. I may be out of a room for hours, but I’m watching, caring, concerning myself with their every need, outside of their knowledge.
I’m monitoring telemetry (heart rhythms) remotely. I check in with other staff who have seen my patient to ask how they’re doing. I’m reviewing their medical and surgical history. I’m checking medication interactions. I’m developing a plan of care for their stay. I’m comparing trends in lab results and vital signs. I’m constantly concerned about their well being, even when I’m outside their room.
I thought about how much I cared, how hard I worked, how begrudging my attitude in my first 7 hours of my shift on my deep inhale. On my exhale, I thought about how much more the Lord cares for me, how much harder He works for my good, how compassionate and loving He is throughout my life.
Truly, the Divine Physician is watching, caring, concerning Himself with my every need, even if He seems far away.
That’s the importance of patience, the importance of hopeful waiting. It’s a matter of trust. It’s a matter of believing that the Lord is at work for your good, even if it’s outside your knowledge, even if it involves hardship. It’s a matter of handling over worry and control over to Jesus, telling Him, “I care and worry about this so much, but I trust this into Your hands.”
That is the beauty of Advent. In the Catholic Church, it’s the four Sundays before Christmas. In the world, it’s the time between Black Friday and Christmas. But no matter what, we have to wait. We have to wait to reunite with our families and friends. We have to wait to give and receive gifts. We have to wait for the birth of Our Savior.
Waiting is not just a part of the spiritual life, but an essential part of the spiritual life. Mary and Joseph had to wait months for the birth of the Lord. The wise men waited years to see the birth of the Lord. The holy man Simeon waited his whole lifetime to see the birth of the Lord. The Israelites waited centuries for the birth of the Lord.
Yet, however long the wait for each, the Lord fulfilled His promise! The Lord is a perfect father who never promises anything without plans to deliver (and deliver in abundance). Too, He is so wise and all-powerful that even when evil and sin get in the way of HIs perfect plan of love, He still delivers!
The Divine Physician cares so much more than any earthly health care provider. He’s waited countless lifetimes to create each one of us. He knows the hairs on our head (Luke 12:7), knows every step we take (Job 31:4), and has a plan of hope, of prosperity, of good for each one of us (Jeremiah 29:11). He knew each one of us would need redemption and His saving love.
He knows how much each one of us needs Him, and He never has us wait without some sort of purpose. Sometimes, the test result is just not back yet, or something else needs to be done first, or we are not ready to receive a gift, or whatever else the divine reason. While we wait, we are challenged to wait in trust, in hope, in faith, knowing that we will receive a taste of the Lord’s goodness in its time.
Christmas is a set date, and nothing in our power can make it come sooner or later. Our attitude for Christmas, however, is not set. This holiday season, this Advent, will we elect an attitude of patience or impatience, a spirit of trust or anxiety?
Either way, Jesus, the Divine Physician is at work. How humbling it will be in heaven to see every little thing the Lord has orchestrated for our good outside our knowledge.
As one of my favorite spiritual writers Henri Nouwen wrote:
“Waiting is essential to the spiritual life. But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting. It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for. We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus. We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory. We are always waiting, but it is a waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God’s footsteps.
Waiting for God is an active, alert—yes, joyful—waiting. As we wait we remember him for whom we are waiting, and as we remember him we create a community ready to welcome him when he comes.”
– Henri Nouwen, Bread For The Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith