Planning versus responding may or may not be a false dichotomy but they are different.

It is the first Sunday of Advent as I write this.

I’m going to my work as a hospital chaplain in a bit. I think that for us, for me, every day is advent, anticipating what could come, reflecting on what has come, and waiting.

 Today, there will be the things I need to do. There will be the things I could do. And there will be the things I do.

As the chaplain who most often leads the interdenominational weekly chapel service, held in the chapel where there are both protestant and Catholic services during the week, there are a handful of tasks for the morning.

  • I need to unwrap the new beeswax candles that go on either side of the altar. The priest and I agreed to start new candles on the first Sunday of Advent, a nice beginning to the church year.
  • I need to move the advent candlestand into the chapel.
  • I need to clean the font just inside the entrance to the chapel, changing the water, washing the basin.
  • I need to schedule the recording to start and stop at the beginning and end of my chapel time.

They are simple tasks. Necessary but not time-consuming.

And there the things I could do. There are a couple people I want to follow up with, and likely others that want someone to visit.

And then there are the things I do.

Other needs that may arise, depending on the driving skills, distractions, heart conditions, blood pressures, and other health-related issues that result in urgent visits to the ER. I don’t know what these needs will be. But they are likely and necessary and potentially time-consuming.

On any given shift, we could have five deaths or none, chaos or calm, familiar situations or complete uncertainty.

And so we, or I, don’t pay much attention to planning, not more than a little bit of each shift. We spend most of our time responding or preparing to respond.


And that was as far as I got in writing on Sunday morning.

Eventually, my 8-hour shift stretched to 12, the font didn’t get cleaned, the service didn’t happen.

During that time, however, the situations we responded to were more important than font-cleaning.

What’s this got to do with Advent?

Christmas preparations are full of nostalgia and tradition and plans. Things we think need to happen, things we are disappointed when they don’t happen.

But often, responding is more helpful than planning, when it comes to the way life is.

Remembering his work and anticipating his glorious return can become sentimental.

If we are waiting and watching with him, looking in the directions he looks (everywhere), talking to the people he loves (everyone), treasuring the people he treasures (each of us), can take us into long shifts with difficult, unplanned moments.

Where we see him again and again.