There are two things you can usually count on being in a waiting room: time and reading material. Tables and racks are scattered with magazines, kids’ books, maybe a newspaper or two. It's not in our nature to wait patiently; we like things to occupy our hands and minds even during the relatively short time waiting for the doctor or mechanic. If you're willing to risk exposure to whatever germs might be lying in wait for you between the pages, there are plenty of celebrity photographs, news coverage or chilli recipes at your fingertips to help pass the time (though possibly six months old).
I’ve started bringing my own books along when I know there will be time spent waiting, and I rarely regret it. Partly because I’m not brave enough to risk the germs, but mostly because I’ve found that those seemingly small chunks of time add up and I get quality reading done when I take advantage of them.
To make the best use of this reading time, it is wise to choose a book that is easy to start and stop. Some examples to consider: a collection of essays or articles such as The Tony Payne Collection or Carl Trueman’s Fools Rush in Where Monkeys Fear to Tread; a book you’re already familiar with but want to re-read; or one with short chapters and easy breaks like CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. Keeping a book in your car or available on your phone or ereader helps you always have one available as well.
Just as we have regular wait times at various appointments, we also face larger scale “waiting room” times in life. It may be a sudden, short-term crisis that leaves us waiting for test results, or a longer wait—months, years—to see how a situation will turn out. Waiting measured in days, months or years is difficult, so when faced with a period of waiting, in my own life or with a friend or family member, I badly want to dosomething tangible.
The first and best thing is to pray. Pray regularly, pray for others, and pray with others. Then, as well as prayer, offering to come alongside in other hands-on ways is helpful and encouraging.
This is where good books can help redeem the time. When helping a brother or sister, recommended a book, give a book, or better yet offer to read one along with them. Books can serve as a tool to not just “kill time” but use it well. Reading gives us not just something to do but a way to mature and a way to come alongside and encourage and grow with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Choosing a book for a time like this depends greatly on the giver, recipient, timing and situation. We can find one that fits the specific circumstances, or choose a more general topic that is helpful at any time. Topics to consider would be: books on prayer, books on God’s character or books that set our focus on our eternal hope. Some of my favourites I may recommend to a friend would be Be Still My Soul by Elisabeth Elliot, How Long, O Lord? by DA Carson, or Jen Wilkin’s None Like Him.
So consider, next time you’re headed to a waiting room, grabbing your own book on your way out the door. And next time you or a loved one are in a period of waiting, pick up a good book to make best use of the time.