“I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:13
I’ve waited for the labor pains to push a child out of me four times. My firstborn, a girl, slid into our arms on a frosty February morning. We had no idea that four days later, we would sit across from a cardiologist as he delivered the devastating news that her heart had stopped beating for 30 minutes that morning.
We’ve become intimate with waiting. Waiting by our daughter’s bassinet, barely able to think clearly enough to groan to God, “Please don’t let her die.” We waited for her body to recover enough to undergo surgery; we waited through 12 hours of extremely risky surgery, unsure whether hoping for the best would hurt more than bracing for the worst. We waited six long weeks before we finally took her home. She had survived, but not without tremendous losses. A brain injury damaged her gross and fine motor skills, leaving her with severe cerebral palsy and seizures.
The next eight years, we loved her the best we could, clinging to hope of seeing good in the land of the living even as we braced ourselves to lose her. We celebrated each tiny accomplishment and tried to enjoy each good moment in the midst of the survival mode we found ourselves in.
Waiting is a mind game. Spiritually, it’s a heart game too. I’ve learned that it takes constant vigilance to keep myself from getting too far ahead. Left unchecked, waiting becomes a chance to concoct elaborate worst-case scenarios so that I can attempt to control the outcome by preparing for every horrible outcome I can imagine.
I’ve lost count of how many times these scenarios left me sobbing and puffy, usually at the wheel or in bed late at night. Eventually, hopefully before I’m utterly distraught, I remember that I’m upset over a what-if, not over truth.
These many years of waiting have taught me a really important thing about what-ifs: What-ifs are not true. When I catch myself thinking things like “What if she dies?” or “What if the surgery fails?” or “What if he’s disabled like his sister?” I am not thinking on what is true. Philippians 4:8 tells us “Finally brothers, whatever is true… think on these things.”
What should I think on instead? A favorite during times of waiting, especially when things look bad, is Psalm 27:13 – “I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” In the land of the living – no matter how desperate and dark these days get, I will see goodness in this life.
Life has been very dark for us. Our daughter died early on a Sunday morning in October 2008, just 15 months after our fourth child, a boy, was born with similar heart defects. He is much healthier than she was, but the years between his diagnosis at the 18-week ultrasound and the “all clear for now” from his cardiologist were terrifying, exhausting, and tearful. But all that worst-case scenario thinking I did in my quiet moments did nothing for me when the worst did happen. God’s grace in the form of peace and the love of friends and family flooded in right at the moments when we needed help the most. No amount of anticipating can compare.
Today, we are in a new season of waiting. This advent, the fifth since our daughter died, I find myself longing to see her, but not in the body that trapped her in this life. I look forward to seeing her healed and whole, rejoicing in the presence of God. I continue to resist thinking about the what-ifs, replacing them with God’s truth, as we watch and wait to see how our son will grow and what he will need in the future.
Let us pray:
Father God, thank you for promising that we will see goodness in this life. Help me to find peace and comfort in what is true. Help me to remember that you will be with me in the waiting and even in the worst that could happen. Amen.
Joy lives in Ohio with her husband, three surviving children, a cat, and a dog. She grew up non-denominational, attended a Baptist college, spent several years in ministry in Baptist churches, and now attends a Presbyterian church. She writes regularly about her musings on life and faith at “Joy in the Journey.” This advent, Joy hopes to dive more deeply into the liturgy of waiting and thus experience more clearly the joy of Jesus’ birth.