CMDA's The Point

Waiting for the Lord in a Hospital Corridor

April 7, 2022

by Kathryn Butler, MD

“Oh please, no more!” she cried. “You said I could go home, and now you’re saying I can’t. You’re a liar!”

She dropped her gaze, and fiddled with the bag, green with bile, that peaked from beneath her gown. She’d been in the hospital for three months, had seen few visitors and had been away from home for so long she couldn’t recall the state of her kitchen table. One day ago, my surgical team had assured her that her long, arduous course was finally ending and she could go home. Then, without warning, we’d rescinded our promise.

Who could blame her for her outburst?

“Sometimes I think dying of cancer would be better than this,” she muttered. The indignation in her eyes had drained away, and sorrow brimmed over in its place. She dropped her head into her hands. “I’m just so tired of waiting.”

Waiting Rooms
Over the last two years, COVID thrust us all into a season of waiting. We’ve waited for vaccines. We’ve waited for life to resume as normal. For our smiles to beam unobstructed by masks. For the case counts to decrease. For it all to get better. For words of hope to flash across the headlines. As COVID becomes endemic and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) talks of fourth boosters, the waiting feels interminable, and hearts grow weary.

While entire nations acutely feel the nagging discomfort of waiting, in every room of every hospital such imposed idleness is an everyday experience. Some people wallow on stretchers until the CT scanner is free. Others glare at the clock, watching the hands complete yet another revolution without a long overdue conversation with the care team.

They wait to go home and return to a normal life. They wait for a transplant. For a cure. For good news. For answers. For healing. For the pain to end.

And those of us caring for them also wait. We wait with bated breath for the infection to clear and the anastomosis to heal. For the pressors to decrease and the ventilator to wean. For our overnight shift to end so we can finally collapse to sleep. For that golden weekend that allows us, at long last, to watch our kids’ softball game.

While pain and grief can split us in two, the impact of waiting is more furtive. It chips away at our hope like a relentless sea eroding away the shore. Over time, our outlook, our strength and even our faith yield and warp beneath the pummeling. “My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning,” we read in Psalm 130:6 (ESV), and we picture ourselves standing on a rampart, our eyes bleary with exhaustion, searching the horizon for relief.

Still, the clock hands turn their monotonous pirouettes. The minutes bloat into hours without answers. We pray and we yearn, and still we wait.

A Legacy of Waiting
Trials of waiting obviously don’t limit themselves to hospital corridors. Ever since Adam reached for the fatal fruit, all creation has waited with eager longing for God to make things right (Romans 8:19). The Bible reveals that God’s people have endured seasons of waiting for millennia.

The book of Exodus tells us the Egyptians “ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field…” (Exodus 1:13-14, ESV). Under the command of Pharaoh, Egyptian soldiers tore baby boys from their mothers and drowned them in the Nile (Exodus 1:15-16). This abuse persisted for generations. How earnestly the people must have cried out for relief!

After the Babylonian siege, the Israelites waited 70 years to come home to Jerusalem. After their return, 400 years of silence ensued. No prophets proclaimed. No new assurances stirred their hopes. For four centuries Israel held its breath, moaned beneath the oppression of successive conquerors and awaited the fulfillment of God’s promise from ages past: the coming of the Messiah, born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), whom God would send to “…bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives…” (Isaiah 61:1, ESV).

So many centuries later, we share in their longing. We wait not in arid wastelands or amid crumbled stones, but rather at operating tables, in call rooms and in the strange, sterile rooms that house our worries.

They waited for Jesus to come. We wait for Him to return.

Waiting for Our Blessed Hope
Even while we pray away the hours, this side of the cross God offers us a well from which even the patriarchs couldn’t drink. While God’s people in the Old Testament waited for salvation promised, we revel in salvation fulfilled. They hoped for the Messiah, but we know Him. Through the Gospels, we can linger over the details of His miraculous work. We see Him hung upon that bloody tree, the sky smoldering in His wake, and then we see Him raised again, walking among those He loved, tasting the fish, rising to heaven to stir the host in glory.

When we stare into the night and urge the clock hands to speed their orbits, we can draw hope from the truth that our present anxieties, however they agitate us, are fleeting vapors. Paul reminds us, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, ESV). The eternal unseen for which we wait is nothing less than the everlasting presence of our loving God, secured for us by one who walked through Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. As we wring our hands, refresh the labs and count the days until we can finally return home, as children of God (John 1:12) we are also “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness” (Titus 2:13-14a, ESV).

For now, we wait. Hours and days lengthen. Time plods on. But against the promise of our blessed hope, these moments are ephemeral, a wisp of smoke that will disappear.

Seasons of waiting grind us down. The slow passage of time taunts us. But Christ is coming. And when He returns, He will renew time itself.

Kathryn Butler, MD

About Kathryn Butler, MD

Dr. Katie Butler (MD, Columbia University) trained in general surgery and surgical critical care at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, where she then joined the faculty. She left clinical practice in 2016 to homeschool her children, and now she writes regularly for and the Gospel Coalition on topics at the intersection of faith and medicine. She is the author of Between Life and Death: A Gospel-Centered Guide to End-of-Life Medical Care and Glimmers of Grace: A Doctor's Reflections on Faith, Suffering, and the Goodness of God.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar Jon M. Sullivan, MD on May 9, 2022 at 9:25 pm

    That was a superbly written essay and is compelling in bringing in a real life story as an eye opener. I truly appreciate the spiritual and scriptural context in which she brings her conclusions also. Well done, Dr. Butler!

Leave a Comment