“But I feel like I’m not doing anything.” On Patience and Waiting

I’m not good at waiting. I know this because I’m in the field of career services, and every personality assessment tells me I’m bad at it. My enneagram number is a 7, which I heard described in a podcast a couple weeks ago as someone with the “champagne of life flowing through their veins.” I’m an “I” in the DISC assessment, which means I’m the life-of-the-party type. I’m an extrovert and an intense planner, and when I’m under lots of stress, I can surprisingly be an incredibly spontaneous person.

So this year, I decided to do something radical. I choose a word for my year, which many people do to set an intention for their year, and this word I chose is endure.

Here’s what I know about being a twentysomething. It’s awkward. And it’s awkward because many of the transitions we enter in to feel dramatic and sweeping or they simply don’t feel like transitions at all. And it’s in the moment of stop and wait that so many lessons can be learned.

Before every one of the major shifts in my twentysomething life, I felt like I was in a sit and wait posture, waiting to have the answers of where to move next and what to prepare for in the coming season. It’s nothing short of uncomfortable, confusing, and sometimes disheartening.

Let me tell you about the word endure, though. Before January 1, 2017, I would have told you endurance is about putting your head down and going for it. It’s that sticktoitiveness (and yes, that’s a word. Google it.) that requires you to not give up for anything.

But endure actually means something far different, far less demanding and intense. Endure or endurance actually means a hopeful fortitude, a steadfastness, or perseverance.

And when I think about seasons of waiting in our lives, particularly framed in the word endure, it feels active. Something I can participate in. An action that allows me to stay open handed and remain in the waiting in order to enter into the next step.

If I were to take you back to the beginning of July 2016 with me, you would have found a particularly happy, content, and very sure person. I loved living in my city, I loved being single, I loved (and still do love) my people tribe, I really liked work. And then fast-forward to the end of July. I was all of a sudden struck with the overwhelming sense of being unsettled – in my job, at church, with my people, in my city.

Despite my best efforts, nothing worked. I started to think, “ Well maybe I should move back home.” And that was welcomed with an even deeper unsettledness. “Maybe I should find a new job.” But job postings came and went without a single ounce of excitement. “Maybe I should explore different people in my city.” …which made me feel more exhausted by simply the thought of trying to make new friends again.

So I waited. I participated in the uncomfortable days. I questioned making the right decisions constantly, and I learned a few things along the way about waiting, cultivating patience, and enduring…

You get clarity on what you prioritize most. A friend recently asked me if I know what the word “ambivalence” means. Often it’s used as a word that means apathy, but what it really means is having mixed feelings or competing ideas about something. That changes things. Because oftentimes in seasons of waiting, we’re presented with choices to make decisions that contradict one another.

A few years ago, I felt like I was supposed to start saving. I didn’t know for how long or for what particularly, but what I did know was that I needed to figure out how to save on a menial graduate assistant budget. What it meant was that I said no to a lot of things that I really wanted to say yes to – going out to eat with friends, traveling, and retail therapy at Target. Choices faced with ambivalence day after day.

And I learned this: sometimes what we’re waiting for and what we want right in from of us can’t both be true of our life. Sometimes it means saying the course, enduring, for the sake of being faithful to a stirring.

Here’s the other thing I learned in this. Waiting is not a stagnant activity. It’s active. It turns out that the act towards the need to save was preparing me in a season of waiting for a big season of change.

You learn where you really run. Think about this. When things get uncomfortable, where do you turn? I wish I had some really mature answer for you, but the honest one is that I more often than not grab for my phone. But what happens when we are sitting in a long season of waiting and our phone don’t cure the discomfort anymore?

And that’s when I took a lesson from some trees. Trees are planted in one place for the entirety of their lives. They see the same view, they are surrounded by the same soil, and they get comfortable with the trees around them. Yet, trees are active, changing, growing. They seek out something more enduring than them for sustaining life. And that’s what I was reminded of. What I run towards must be more enduring than my situation, and far more enduring than my phone can offer.

You learn that the holding pattern you feel like you’re in is actually teaching you how to be held. My summer of college that I spent in the hospital was an extreme period of waiting. When everyone was out at the lake, hanging out with friends, or hitting up summer festivals, I was sitting behind poorly painted walls with art from the 1980’s.

Here’s what happens in a hospital, though. You entrust your life and health and safety to a team of qualified people. They hold you when you’re struggling and help carry you through when life feels daunting.

That’s what it was all about for me. I learned that in a season that felt like I was being held back and stuck, I was actually learning how to be held. Because what I know is that we can’t care for others unless we know we’re cared for ourselves. We can’t love unless we already know we’re loved. And we can’t hold others or space for others if we don’t know what it’s like to be held. And it seems like in times of waiting is when we embrace those things the most.

What I know about enduring and waiting is that it’s not passive complacency. It isn’t sitting around waiting for something to happen. Waiting for a lesson to be learned. Waiting for the days to pass. When we get really good at actively waiting, we become people who radiate hope with our excitement in faith of what’s ahead.

It’s what I love about the word endure. It’s one that requires a bit of grit and tenacity, but it’s a gentle posture of steadfastness that gives us hope to come, a direction to run, and clarity on what is truly for us.

I would love to hear from you!