I am, on the whole, blessed and very grateful to have good health. While afflictions have come my way, I have not had to go to hospital or have any surgery or contend with any major health problems. I am thankful to God so many times over for this that I dare not count. Like most people, maintaining that good health, a balanced diet, exercise, and attending to my spiritual and mental needs is something I want to focus more on. It is easy to take our health for granted when we are not exposed to the sufferings of others in the world.
I once accompanied someone to a day (non-emergency) clinic in a large public hospital for their usual check-up. My aim was to stay focused and help with finding the right reception area, but I was primarily there to be a support for this person.
Upon entering the clinic I was preoccupied with looking for the correct counter – yet again, logical me was always looking for the right answer. But all of that washed away when I was instead confronted by an encounter – a sea of humanity in the waiting area.
These were mainly older ladies and gentlemen – Australians from various multicultural backgrounds – with a sprinkling of youth. They were not preoccupied with too many things – some were looking at the television perched near the ceilings, a few were on their phones, and others talking. The vast majority however were quiet and staring at nothing in particular. I do not know why but this quote from the Bible instantly sprang to my mind as I faced these people:
“…He saw a vast multitude; and His heart was moved with pity for them…” (Mark 6:34)
Almost all of the people looked serious, some were worn and weary, and none were smiling. It was not a place of overt suffering and no noise indicated any obvious distress, but I could deeply feel that these were suffering people. I could see it in their faces. I could sense it in the atmosphere. Do you know how sometimes you can just walk into a room and know that something has taken place there? It was like that. Someone once told me that hospitals are where you confront the reality of humanity – the ‘salt of the earth’ people. There are no pretenses here. Life gets real.
As I proceeded to walk to our reception desk and my acquaintance did what he had to do, it was the start of a long waiting time. I sat in that waiting room for several hours. I had brought a few magazines with me to pass the time but did not end up reading any of them. I thought I would be bored but became intrigued by the people in that place, and so I decided to read them instead. I felt like I was in an audience watching life happening up on a stage – the reception staff were assisting each person, medical staff appeared at various intervals calling the next patient’s name, and young children played while their parents waited for their relatives. I watched an elderly gentleman tottering with his walking stick when his name was called up. I do not know why but I especially felt moved by him. I looked at the faces of these people who seemed to be tired but stoic and trusting in the goodness of the hardworking medical staff.
Perhaps it may be because I am not accustomed to being in a medical environment, or that I have not stayed that still and been so unoccupied for such a long time, but the overwhelming feeling I had for these people was one of pity and compassion. This was not a condescending pity, but a humble realisation of how, I think, God sees us.
The gift of that waiting room was that God was there too – His raw presence was in the honesty of these suffering people. While observing them I kept thinking about the crowds that Jesus encountered in his public ministry. People pressed around him, begged and called out to Him, and desperately wanted to be healed by Him. I am sure that if He walked into that waiting room, in any medical waiting room, people today would do exactly the same.
And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him. (Matthew 20:30-34)
Then another thought occurred to me about these people – the sick, the suffering, and the silent ones around me that day. They all had faith. I did not know whether they were actual believers in Christ or what their personal religious beliefs were, but they had the will to remain there for hours on end, mostly in silence, waiting and hoping for help. This takes faith and courage.
Humanity is adrift in an ocean of suffering which seems to have no bounds, no coast, and no end. But our life here on earth is also a sea of endurance. The sea ebbs and flows. It retreats and surges. But it is strong. It does not evaporate. So it is with us. We withdraw and retreat but we must return to God who is the Source of our power and hope pulling us to Him.
And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” (Luke 8:43-48)
All of us will encounter physical (and mental) suffering in our lives, but I believe that it is the ones who are fighting persistent illnesses, recurring medical problems, ongoing operations, and problem after problem, who are very close to God’s heart. Their ability to persevere in hope for help from others who are doing God’s work through their hands and expertise (whether they acknowledge it or not) is tremendously upheld by God’s enduring love for them and their individual pains.
And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” (Mark 1:40-41, English Standard Version)
So I prayed for everyone there that day.
These people taught me some invaluable lessons, but mostly an understanding that the sea of humanity’s suffering becomes a sea of endurance when we put our trust in God’s presence. We must know that He is always with us in the waiting room of life, no matter what we have to face. We will never drown because He stretches out His hand to all of us. Let us meditate on this especially as we begin our Lenten journey this week.