Waiting with God on a Gurney

I’ve come to understand that, as Henri Nouwen says, we have a waiting God, one who waits with us. Our God waits with us whether we’re standing in an endless line or worrying about medical test results, lying in a damp nursing home bed or wondering who’s got the job or promotion we’ve applied for.

I learned this one day when, as a student pastor at Faith United Methodist Church in northwest Denver, I was rear ended at Sheridan 38th Avenues. Faith Church happened to be one of three churches yoked together into a cooperative parish, and I had driven to one of the other churches–Berkeley United Methodist Church–to drop something off.

 We were busy back at Faith with church clean up day, so I was in a hurry to get back. But, at the intersection of Sheridan and 38th Avenues, the light had turned red. I pulled up behind a car on the inside lane. I sat waiting at the wheel, drumming my fingers, when suddenly someone rammed into me from behind.

It was the last thing I wanted to happen that day. The other driver and I climbed out of our cars and looked at the damage. We called a policeman, who didn’t arrive right away. We waited and waited, then decided to drive our cars into the Convenient Store parking lot on the corner. To make this part of the story short, the policeman finally came, ticketed the woman who had run into me, and I was free to go back to Faith Church.

When I got back to Faith Church, people wanted to know where I had been. I told them what had happened. Then, when they looked at me, they became worried. They thought I was behaving funny. I had jolted my neck. I was probably in mild shock.

So everybody urged me to go to the hospital emergency room. I did, going to the Lutheran Medical Center. I wasn’t bleeding, so there I sat in the waiting room, triaged to the very end of the line. I waited. I waited. Finally I was put on a gurney, and I thought, Ahhh! Now the doctor will see me and soon I would be free to return to the church.

I was rolled into one of the hallways, where I had to wait for an X-ray technician to take me to X-ray. I lay there, staring up at the ceiling, waiting and waiting. Other gurneys were wheeled by, bumping into mine and rolling me into the wall. Sorry! I thought, This is what it means to be a patient, Christ on the cross. Soon they will be poking a needle into me. I remembered the patients I’d been visiting in nursing homes and in hospitals and I suddenly understood why sometimes they were so cranky. I felt like a thing, not you, a person, but an it, not a subject but an object, not an actor but some thing, as Nouwen says, “to be acted upon.” To tell the truth, I felt like a piece of meat lying on a cart. I wanted to cry out, “I object!” I wanted to get up and walk out. There’s nothing wrong with me, I thought. Why should I put up with this? But I did not get up and walk out. I waited with my thoughts, waited with God on my gurney.

I learned eventually that indeed there was not much wrong with me. I just needed to rest a little. It was a wonderful relief, a joy to know that I would be all right. But the grace of it all was that my little ordeal taught me how to be truly present with those whom I visited in nursing homes and hospitals. They are actors yet, on their way to recovery and back to us again, or on the most important leg of their life’s journey, back home to God. You, you are one of us!

It gave me an insight into our waiting God, who created us in the divine image and with the power to choose. When I remember lying on a gurney in the Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, I think of Jesus on the cross, emptied of all God’s power, which was certainly his to use if he so chose, being jostled by the crowds, waiting and waiting for us to pause in our frenzied living, waiting for us to choose to love one another…to love one another.