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Finding God in the Anxiety of the Waiting Room

Thrum. Thrum. I glanced cautiously around me—could others in the waiting room hear my heart pounding? Only four days ago, an ear, nose, and throat doctor had disrupted our lives with shocking news: Our apparently healthy 22-year-old son appeared to have a brain tumor. Only three days ago, an MRI at the local hospital had confirmed the diagnosis. Only two days ago, we had shared the heartbreaking news with his siblings and their spouses. And just yesterday we had wept through hymns at church proclaiming the goodness of our good Father. Now, one long hour had passed since our son had checked into the top tumor center of our region.

Have you ever been there? In the waiting room of a health crisis? If you haven’t, you know someone who has, someone who has experienced the heart-pounding, stomach-souring, head-throbbing anxiety of the wait. As the minutes tick by in the waiting room, your mind trips through the troubling what-ifs

What if it’s cancer?

What if I lose my job?

What if I can’t lift my grandchildren?

What if—my son is going to die?

These questions and others disrupt the peace of caregivers and patients alike as they endure the agonizing wait of a serious health crisis.

Our son’s brain-tumor diagnosis coincided with my 83-year-old father’s battle with stage IV prostate cancer. Already my father’s primary caregiver, I now became my son’s as well. Passing hundreds of harsh hours in multiple waiting rooms, I was met again and again with the hope of the gospel.

In the uncertainty of a health crisis, the following gospel realities can calm our anxious hearts, bringing us peace and hope.

1. Nothing Can Separate Us from God’s Love

The gospel contradicts the common 21st-century worldview that individual freedom and self-rule bring comfort. The Bible asserts that belonging to the Lord brings comfort. After our son’s third brain surgery, he spoke about this comfort.

He was recalling his tumultuous tumor journey with some visitors: two brain surgeries to excise the tumor, a third after his wound had become infected. In the third, a piece of his skull was removed. Our son and his visitors were laughing at the ugly taupe-colored foam helmet he was instructed to wear to protect his vulnerable skull. One visitor, a kind, older gentleman, commented that if anyone could pull this off, our son could, because of his remarkable bravery. The laughter hushed. All was silent for a moment. Our son then spoke slowly, with tears in his eyes:

“Nothing . . . nothing can take Jesus and my family and my friends away from me.”

In the disturbing realities of a health crisis, even when death is a real possibility, to be persuaded that “whether we live or we die, we belong to the Lord” (Rom. 14:7) and that “nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39) brings comfort, peace, and hope.

2. God Rules over Everything, including Every Hair of Our Heads

On that first day in the waiting room, as my heart pounded away, as my mind wandered through the what-if’s, a thought struck: Oh, no! His hair! I realized that our son, who had always carefully groomed his hair, would likely lose those locks to the surgery.

Thankfully, immediately after this unpleasant realization, I remembered something I’d been studying recently—part of the answer to the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism:

He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.

In the losses of a health crisis, peace and hope come from knowing that our heavenly Father is also a gracious king, caring compassionately and ruling kindly over his children (Matt. 10:29–31).

3. In Jesus Christ, We Have Forgiveness for Sins

It’s not uncommon for people in the waiting room to experience a deep sense of remorse and guilt. The patient who is terminally ill may feel regret; loved ones may feel anger and frustration as they care for the patient. Forgiveness is particularly good news in such a space.

One day, in the oncology waiting room with my dad, I received news that angered me. Previously, when I had checked on my dad while I was away caring for our son, he had told me he was “tip-top.” Now, as we sat in this crowded waiting room, he let it slip that his chemo pill was no longer working—he had stopped all treatment. I was angry because he’d lied to me about his condition. My anger made him feel guilty and ashamed.

Thankfully, he forgave me for being angry, and I forgave him for lying. What brought us both peace and hope in that moment was the truth of Ephesians 1:7: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”

4. Jesus Is Near

Knowing that Jesus is near brings peace and hope to the loneliness and uncertainty of the waiting room. Two aspects of his nearness make the wait bearable.

First, Jesus is close to the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18). His nearness soothes our anxiety; his nearness blankets us with the surpassing peace which can only be found in him.

During our son’s third surgery, which was unexpected and therefore left me alone in the waiting room, my anxiety skyrocketed. Waiting to hear whether the infection in the wound had spread to his brain, my heart beat so rapidly that my Apple watch urged me to breathe. I chose instead to pop in my earbuds and listen to the hym, “’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.” As I listened, Jesus’s peace washed over me, soothing me as a mother soothes her panicked baby.

Second, the Greek word used in Philippians 4:5 (“The Lord is near“) also refers to his soon return. This anxious season in the waiting room won’t go on forever. One day, Christ will come back, and our deepest hopes will be fulfilled as he makes all broken brains and hearts and limbs new (Rev. 21:5). In that day, God will dwell with his people, and we will know true and lasting peace.

Today, as we pass tense moments in the waiting room, we will find peace and hope in remembering that day—when we will finally live as God designed us, glorifying him and enjoying him fully and forever.