I remember those early, heady days when we founded the Preemptive Love Coalition and we envisioned—for the first time—an Iraq free of the burdensome backlog of children waiting in line for heart surgery. I remember calling families to alert them that we could finally send their child to heart surgery, only to hear on the other end of the line a polite-but-devastated, “It’s too late. My child died yesterday.” I’ve sat in different waiting rooms across the country where children were waiting to be seen by the doctor, and I’ve seen children die before my eyes—literally while waiting in line. We’ve said from the beginning that our mission is to "eradicate the backlog."
But our vision, stated more positively, is that every Iraqi child would have access to the surgical intervention they require to thrive.
Since 2003 and the start of the war, an estimated 50,000 children have been born into The Backlog. There is no way of knowing how many were already alive and waiting in line before that time; nor do we know how many we have lost during that period nationwide. In that time, while seeking to serve these children, we have faced bombings, death threats, the imprisonment of our staff, armed conflict in the cities where we’ve worked, political roils, funding crises, and partnerships that have turned predatory.
The minefields you will have to endure while pursuing your vision are complex. All the easy stuff has been accomplished already! The things that remain are usually fraught with risk and even danger. Depending on your context, it will become impossible at times to move forward with your vision at all. So what do you do when you are placed in a holding pattern?
Like these Iraqi children I’ve sat with and held, the “waiting room” is where many a vision has died. Visions need activity. They need momentum. They need progress. Below are three things I’ve consistently done to nurture vision while stuck, for reasons beyond my control, in the waiting room.
1) Plan. Whether the vision you are nurturing is one for your marriage, your children, your business, or some social issue across the world, nothing gets done well without planning. When you start to become dissatisfied with the world (marriage, business, etc) as it is; when you start to envision a better way to live or a solution to one of the world’s intractable problems, you must begin to plan. Planning means different things relative to the vision in question. It might mean quiet research on the problem itself. It might require a lot of info gathering about proposed and enacted solutions currently in the marketplace. If the problem is really so bad, why has no one else tackled it yet? What are the obstacles to success? Is the space crowded with solutions already? What would you need to do in order to bring something new to the field? What will it cost if it all goes well? What will it cost if it all goes terribly?
Woe to the visionary who jumps in without planning. The waiting room is one of the most important places for a vision to begin, as it gives us time to make our missteps on paper before ever spending a dime or wasting the time of others in the real world.
2) Position. I’ve met many people along this journey who want to eradicate poverty, provide clean water, transform social problems across Iraq and the Middle East, etc. Among the worst things I’ve seen passionate visionaries do is a chronic failure to become well-positioned in the field of choice so that expertise and solutions might flow more naturally. A well-intentioned twenty-something starts a new non-profit organization out of Idaho to help Darfur. A well-to-do family from the suburbs launches a ministry to the homeless downtown. A businessman seeks to change industries and launch a new venture at the invitation of a friend. Sometimes these things work well enough. But if you are pursuing a vision for the future as it should be, and not merely as it is, you must position yourself for the desired change.
Whenever possible, I advocate networking and proximity. Trying to engineer a vision for another part of the world from the comfort of your living room in America is usually a bad idea. A reliance on internet material instead of diverse, first-hand accounts from your customers or constituents just won’t cut it. Whether you are in business or in international development—indeed even as a parent or a spouse—vision is about meeting the needs of others. We must be in a position to accurately understand the needs of those for whom we are pursuing our vision. When the waiting room keeps you from fully acting upon your desired vision, sometimes the best thing you can do is move your body; get closer to the action; and hold more meetings with all relevant parties to ensure that you deeply understand the issues affecting them.
3) Pray. I won’t spend my time on a vision that I can accomplish on my own. Anything small enough to be accomplished by me, without the intervention of God, is a task that I am happy to forgo and leave for someone else. When I pursue vision, I choose to work on things that overwhelm me and cause me to go to God in prayerful dependence. In fact, one of the greatest things for me about pursuing vision is the act of worship that it can become; not worship of the vision itself, but worship of the God who alone can sovereignly work through human freedom to bring about a better future.
I realize not all readers and visionaries will agree with me on this point. But when I am sitting in the waiting room of vision (or riding the wave of visionary success, for that matter), I commit myself again and again to God who hears, who cares, and who proactively works in this world to set all wrongs to right.
The snares that lay in wait for you on your journey to fulfill your vision are beyond number. The delays and unexpected detours have caused the death of countless visions and visionaries. Planning, positioning and prayer are neither exhaustive nor fool-proof, but without these disciplines, my vision that every Iraqi child would have access to the cardiac surgical intervention they require to thrive in childhood and become fully-contributing members of society would have long-since died in the many waiting rooms that have beset us along the way.
Are you in a holding pattern? Are you waiting on details to be clarified? Is your how still taking shape now that you’ve defined the what of your vision? Keep planning, get positioned, and by all means I commend to you the God Who Cares. These things are not passing. They are still a part of the active pursuit of your vision.
Do you see it differently? Do you have other disciplines you use when stuck in one of life’s waiting rooms? I would love to hear about it. Send me an email by clicking this link.