My friend, formerly a missionary in Brazil, needs a liver transplant. He lives in California and is fortunate enough to be on UCLA Hospital’s waiting list. For months he has been monitoring his blood cell count – or whatever it is that will say, “Now or never” – hoping it gets to that point where he qualifies for immediate attention and the transplant.

While waiting, he has developed kidney complications as well, so now he needs a double transplant – liver and kidney. He has been bedridden for months. On his worst days, his legs stop working, he gets disoriented and depressed and feels the clutch of dying in his chest. All of that passes, eventually, but the waiting goes on.

His first thought every time the phone rings is, “Finally,” which turns to crushing disappointment as soon as he answers. On the other end, those of us who are waiting with him – who are in the know – hear that in his voice even as he tries to be upbeat in the conversation that follows.

Waiting can be worse than pain, especially for those who are hurting and looking for relief. When, as in my friend’s situation, it is a matter of life and death, waiting is like living in the middle of an antique clock shop with every timepiece ticking like a time bomb. Even in whatever sleep he manages to get, he can never stop listening.

My friend and his wife know that waiting is all about powerlessness. There is nothing they can do on their end of things to hurry the process; and not knowing what is happening on the hospital’s end does not help. What to do while waiting, however, eventually becomes critical.

Whoever said, “The watched pot never boils” had it right. When waiting becomes a way of life rather than a piece of living, the feeling of powerlessness can shatter one’s spirit. Not being in my friend’s situation, it is uncomfortably easy for me to write that there is a process happening that needs to be trusted.

He is a man of great faith and does not have to work very hard to believe that. He knows he is in a learning place these days and, unfortunately, where he needs to be. That realization defines his best days. On them he is in touch with a large network of friends via e-mail and Skype, looks forward to visitors and welcomes phone calls, despite the initial disappointment. He knows that on the other side of waiting will be healing and a reclaiming of the power that seems so lost at the moment.

In the meantime all he can do is whatever he can to get through the worst days, make the most of his best days and use the good and better ones to find a moment’s peace away from the clock’s ticking.