When life as we know it has been brought to a standstill by the death of one we love, the future we once imagined, perhaps even relied upon as a certainty, is no more. Our hopes, our dreams, our inmost desire for fulness of life beyond the horizon of today are unalterably shaken. And though remnants of our ideal longings may survive the finality of death, the fragile ruins of the future we once envisioned become a commentary on our past.
Capturing a glimpse of the future is to give the world a second chance. In the liminal time between the death of one we love and our reawakening to life and love and joy, there is a vast expanse of waiting that challenges the heart and tests the fortitude of our soul. Waiting is counterintuitive to our human nature, especially in the instant-gratification culture of the twenty-first century. We are experts at doing, remarkably inept at waiting. Waiting is hard, frustrating work that defies our ingrained need to be measurably productive doing something—anything— all the time.
One of the settings in which we most visibly experience the stress and intensity of waiting is in a medical or hospital environment. Perhaps you spent wakeful nights on an uncomfortable hospital sofa while your loved one was in treatment or lay dying, or you have been a patient at some time yourself. Whether in a physician’s office or in the anonymous halls of a medical center, waiting is the silent backdrop of every action and interaction. When we look into the faces of those who wait, we see lives torn between hope and despair, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14 NRSV). At any time, there is always someone waiting, always someone in need of our prayers—
- One who waits in fear to be rolled into surgery
- One who waits in anxiety and worry for a loved one who is in surgery
- One who waits for urgent treatment in the emergency department
- One who waits on diagnosis
- One who waits on treatment
- One who waits for the results of testing
- One who waits for the outcome of treatment
- One who waits for healing
- One who waits for hair to re-grow
- One who waits for birth
- One who waits for death
- One who waits on bended knee in the hospital chapel desperately praying for recovery, “But it is for you, O Lord, that I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer” (Psalm 38:15 NRSV).
Waiting is one of the unexpected disciplines of grief that in the moment, can seem harsh or even punitive. Yet in the space of time and life in which our only job is to wait, we find the gifts of solitude and silence that allow us simply to be,” For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him” (Psalm 62:5 NRSV). At this place of spiritual and mental inertia, our slow-motion activities turn inward—we can do nothing more or less than pray, meditate, and notice the presence of God in and around us, “Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:30-31 NRSV). And whether we wait for twenty-four hours, for days, for weeks, for months, or even for years, we are promised that there is a future, a future with hope, “Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 23:18 NRSV).
As our strength is renewed, we move from the threshold of grief toward the strength of new life, “there is hope for your future, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:17 NRSV). Slowly we understand that today is the future we believed in yesterday. We find our hope for the future in the unshakeable presence of God, “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 NRSV).
Restored to new energy because we have lived into our interlude of waiting, we resume our life of doing, our direction changed by the experience of death and grief, “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life” (1 Timothy 6:18-20 NRSV). After the death of one we love, the good foundation for our future is in the life that really is life, “Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, you will find a future, and your hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 24:14 NRSV). The assurance of our faith is that God knows the future, and that God’s future for us is one of good and of hope, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).