The Work of Waiting
by Christopher Thompson, 06/27/2017
A couple months ago I tore my achilles tendon while playing basketball.
This entire experience has taught me so much. All the downtime has forced me to do a great deal of reflecting. And recently I discovered something about healing that’s been life-changing.
A major injury takes a major toll on the body. After the initial trauma, the entire body shifts into healing mode. I’m no physician, and I’m not sure about the particular order, but I do know that the body activates several chemical reactions to prevent further injury. There’s the adrenaline that helps the body respond to the additional internal activity that’s about to ensue. There’s the coagulation cascade to clot the blood around the injured area and stop the bleeding. There’s the white blood cells that rush to the area to fight infection. And I’m sure there’s far more than that going on. And that’s just on the inside of the body at the moment you’re injured.
Aside from the internal chemical changes and physiological traffic, people are busy and buzzing all around the injured person to protect and care. When I tore my achilles there were several people around me helping me. Then add to that the doctors and nurses that help treat the injury.
Then there are the actual steps toward healing that are also a lot of work. There are multiple trips to the doctor and that leads to the first major step; (1) Surgery. Then immediately after surgery there’s the (2) casting and surgery recovery. I’m convinced that wearing a cast is the single most uncomfortable experience a person can endure. But that’s another article. Then you start the (3) medication process. Remember how we talked about blood clots? Apparently, an injury and treatment plan like mine presents serious risk of unwanted blood clots. So on top of the pain medication I had to take injections (yes, with a needle) to prevent any blood clots. Then there’s the (4) physical therapy for learning to use and strengthen those injured areas again. But coupled with each of those steps is an additional component that is in itself a lot of work.
As a matter of fact, what I’m about to share is probably what makes the entire healing process so challenging. It’s the part that makes each stage so much more grueling. Simply put, it’s the work of waiting.
Forget what you’ve heard, waiting is work. As a matter of fact, waiting is quite possibly the most challenging task you will ever encounter. Nevertheless, it is unavoidable. When I went to the emergency room I had to wait. Then I went to the sports injury specialist and I had to wait. Then they gave me a walking boot and made me wait a week before surgery. When I went in for my surgery I had to wait. Then I went to the back to prep for surgery and I had to wait again. They performed the surgery and then ( in a brief role-reversal)…they waited on me…to wake up and gain consciousness. Then they sent me home and told me to rest, which actually means wait. Then I stared at the cast on my leg and realized that there’s nothing I could do about it but…you got it…wait.
When you think carefully, every stage of the healing process requires some serious waiting. You might not like it, but there’s no way around it. Here I am now in the therapy process. Just this morning, my doctor asked me to try a new exercise and while I’m happy with my progress, this new motion reminded me that this is going to take more time and more work than I thought; which can only mean one thing…more waiting.
As I said, waiting is work. The question is, what is it that makes waiting so difficult? Why is waiting so taxing? The first challenge in the work of waiting is to guard against anxiety, fear, doubt and similar distractions. These can be all-consuming and actually stifle the healing process. They zap one’s energy and disrupt the real work that is necessary during the process. Nevertheless, here are a few key tasks that comprise the work of waiting.
There is a great need to reflect on what took place to bring you to this point. Remembrance leads to proper grieving, taking stock of what has been lost, revisit the events, people and ideas and how they’ve affected you. It’s essential to review the path we have trod to help guard against making the same missteps in the future. Next time I’ll stretch before I play. I did warm up, but I didn’t stretch properly. Also, I’ll never play in low-cut basketball shoes again.
Rushing past the waiting stage robs you of the fruit and benefits that are gained in small victories along the road of recovery. There’s great value in each small win that’s experienced at every stage. Take the time to savor each special moment that surfaces. Even in the reflecting process you’ll unearth some blessings you didn’t know were there. I’m learning that celebration itself is one of the hardest disciplines. We obsess over the negative and fail to take adequate time to celebrate the wins. When they took off my first cast, my doctor said, “Gorgeous!!!” I was gleaming with joy because I knew her response was evidence of my progress. Celebrate the wins!
To revise is to rework, to make things different. But the key to proper revision is to see with a new set of eyes. So your capacity to re-envision leads to proper revision. My good friend and colleague Pierre Quinn recently wrote a book about this by that very title: ReVision. It’s subtitled “Receiving What Happens Next.” That’s what this stage could really be about: hoping, dreaming, imagining, envisioning new possibilities, new steps, new opportunities. I look forward to running again. I’m looking forward to getting back to training. I’m dreaming a lot about that Ironman triathlon these days.
Once we imagine the new possibilities, we must determine some next steps. The reality is we won’t realize a better marriage, a better product, a better relationship with God, a better anything without some clear strategic steps toward the desired end. There’s hoping, dreaming, imagining and then there’s planning, preparing and practicing. What new initiatives must I begin? What new behaviors will be essential? What new connections do I need to make? To receive what’s next, I’m going to have to do something new. At a recent therapy session, the doctor told me to stop wearing my walking boot around the house. It got me thinking. Well, if I can walk around my house, what’s stopping me from walking around my neighborhood? It was a eureka moment! That same day I went to the mall and bought some brand new shoes. I’m getting ready for the next steps.
Maybe you’re in a holding pattern right now. You’re waiting on a door to open, for your wounds to heal, for the sun to shine. It’s easy to allow fear, anxiety, resentment, and all the rest to crowd the healing process. So here are a few reminders of the blessings found when we do the work of waiting.
- But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Is. 40:31)
- But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1:4)
- And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint… (Rom. 5:3-5a)
- Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord. (Ps. 27:14)
There’s one more major reason why hope and the work of waiting is so valuable. It’s actually at the core of what we believe. One of my favorite bible promises is found in Matthew 24:46.
“Blessed is that servant whose master returns and finds him doing his job.”
We are waiting for our Lord and Savior to return. We have been waiting for quite a long time. With such a long delay there’s a temptation to give up hope and lose focus on the promise. However, the key to this waiting is to not spend it in indolence, fear and immorality, but rather consumed with the work that he requires while he prepares a place for us. Our hope in his soon return spurs us toward the task at hand. I want to be counted among the faithful servants who are busy with the work of waiting and work of ministry when Jesus comes again.
Trauma, injury and trouble is all around us, but if we do the work of waiting, recovery and healing is so much sweeter. I can’t wait for that great day!
Christopher C. Thompson is beginning a new job in the Orlando, FL area, as Communication Director of the Southeastern Conference.