A Holy Waste of Time
“Scott, what you’re going to Iraq to do–really–is to waste time.”
When Elmarie shared this a few nights ago, it made perfect sense. Twenty years ago, not so much. But today, at least, I understand that for two weeks while I’m with displaced families and the Church in Iraq, probably the most important thing I can do is to “waste time.”
That’s not what I call it, of course. And that’s not how I think of it.
It’s “being WITH people.” Hanging out. Hearing a person’s story. Being emotionally present to listen for what is not said with words.
Are there things I want to “do” and “accomplish”? Well, yeah. Above all, I guess I want to “help.”
But I keep thinking back to an experience I had in Residency when I was assigned to Sickle Cell patients who were in such pain and lousy shape that the idea that I could say anything that would make things better for them was ludicrous. My inspirational stories, my encouraging words, my jokes–all the stuff in my toolbox to make people feel better–I learned to leave at the door. I learned to just BE with another person. With no agenda. To simply be with THEM.
Half of the equation is DIGNITY–aware that the One in front of me is a PERSON, deeply valued by the Living God, whose story is holy ground that requires my reverence and light footsteps.
The other half of the equation is SURRENDER. Will I surrender my need to be useful, appreciated, and all the other stuff that gets in the way (including my FEAR of wasting time) of being PRESENT?
Funny thing–as I look back at the times I have been most helpful in someone else’s life, it has looked dangerously close to what someone else might call “wasting time.”
And I wonder–perhaps there were those among the angels that gazed upon the phenomenon we now call the INCARNATION (God taking on human flesh, being WITH us) and dared to wonder if that really was the best use of God’s time? The Author of the universe, architect of galaxies we haven’t discovered yet? Chose to waste time–WITH us.
And yet, THAT’S the Real stuff–the sitting in the hospital room / hanging out with a student / talking-without-condescending to someone who is different or limited / helping someone see they are worth more than what they feared.
We KNOW this. We know the times when THIS is the most important thing we could be doing. We know when we are almost in tears, glad that the person in front of us didn’t think we were a waste of time.
I get to spend two weeks WITH people who have been through a lot of pain and pressure and loss, and somewhere in that mix, I believe/hope/pray that something good will have been done or given or happened.
I guess I’m going in with the belief that when someone is hurting, what they need most is our PRESENCE.
BONUS: While I’m there, I get to tell them about YOU–the hundreds of people that care about them and what is happening even though you have never (technically) met. I get to tell them about your concern and prayers and acts of interest and friendship and refusing to turn a blind eye.
You, also, are choosing to be PRESENT.