they also serve who only stand and wait

My favorite English teacher of all time made us do lots of memorization. Dad taught English Lit, a course for 12th graders, and I was the only kid at home when I was his student. So, he and I would often recite to one another. He was helping me with my assignment, but also the two of us rather loved the sounds of poetry. We would talk to the dog, “little lamb, who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee?…” while Pepper looked at us quizzically.

One poem that Dad had us memorize that year was John Milton’s “On His Blindness.” In it, Milton explores what it is to serve God, envisions the power at God’s behest and concludes, “who best bear his mild yoke, they serve him best” and then, “they also serve who also stand and wait.”

I can remember quite clearly Dad’s passionate explication of this poem. Relating it not only to Milton’s own blindness, his dependence on his daughters to read and write for him, but also to us. We were hale and healthy high school seniors, but Dad assured us that this would not always be the case. There were times we would only be able to “stand and wait” and this was service to God as well.

There may be a bit of irony that the man who fervently taught this lesson is also the man who is half of the pair who gave me my very dominant ABD gene. Always Be Doing. If I am not actively doing something, I get a little nuts. I walked in on Dad vacuuming the underside of my living room rug this winter. It’s a darn strong gene, that ABD.

But this winter has been a lot of waiting for me. Lying and waiting. Sitting and waiting. Sometimes standing and waiting. Even now that I’m more active and back to a more normal schedule there is waiting. I’m more tentative in my actions and certainly not as productive. This is hard for me and I end up feeling guilty that I’m not doing more.

It’s in this guilt that Milton’s line comes to me. And while I usually attribute this only to the recall of Scripture when I least expect it and most need it, I think this is the work of the Holy Spirit. That, too, felt strange. Does the Holy Spirit speak to me in poetry? Isn’t that the work only of Scripture?

My question was answered on Easter morning. A gorgeous service at church and the sermon based on Mark’s account of the resurrection. Mark’s account is spare and differs from other accounts in that it describes a man dressed in white. The man is not identified as an angel or Jesus, but bids the women to tell the good news of the resurrection. The sermon focused on his clothing which the pastor called “resurrection clothing.” She had much to say about it, but what struck me most was her conclusion, her challenge to us. What, she wondered, did our resurrection clothing look like? Could it be an apron, a 3-piece suit, a lab coat, a hospital gown? “Hospital gown,” I thought, “she just said hospital gown. When I am wearing a hospital gown, I too am serving God. I, too, am wearing the clothing of the resurrection. They also serve who only stand and wait!”

This makes the waiting and the standing easier. It calms me for my two significant doctor appointments this week. It allows me to curl up in the chair reading Percy Jackson book one while Zoe sits on me and reads Percy Jackson book four. It gives me wonderful time with my mom even if it is at the cancer center. It gives me the patience to empty my drain one. more. time.

I’m waiting. I’m serving. I’m thankful.

9 thoughts on “they also serve who only stand and wait

  1. My favorite English teacher, too. I remember the Milton poem word-for-word, and it has brought me a lot of comfort over the years.

  2. keeping you in my thoughts and prayers for your dr’s appointments this week. As always, thank you for passing along your insight and learning – oh wise one. hugs

  3. This reminds me of a visit to a friend quite a few years ago in a nursing home. She had never heard the song, They that Wait upon the Lord . I sang it to her that day, and she looked at me and said quietly, “I’m waiting”. We are all waiting- some together and some alone, but we are waiting! Blessings on you and yours as us wait too.

  4. Well, neuropathic symtoms or no, your gift with language brings me joy. I’m reading your entries backwards and busted up about your dad vacuuming the bottom of the rug — that’s ABD and LOVE. Our family continues to pray for you daily.

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