The world does not see patience as a position of strength but rather as a position of weakness, of wanting, of lack. Powerful people don’t have to wait; powerless people do. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of patience. Patience allows you to take back control over a capricious and unstable world and plant that control firmly within yourself. Patience does not give you the power over circumstances; patience allows you to control yourself in the midst of circumstances.
Patience, as an attitude, has been misunderstood. Because of the misconceptions I’ve run into over the years as I’ve helped people develop the capacity for patience in their lives, I’d like to go over some of the realities of patience.
Patience is not apathy. Apathy is a lack of interest or concern. Being patient does not mean disengaging or disconnecting from your feelings or emotions. Being patient means accepting both how you feel about a given situation and what you can realistically do about it.
Patience is not surrender. A decision to exercise patience is not the equivalent of waving the white flag. When you surrender, you place yourself under the control of the situation and remove yourself from the equation. Patience is not surrendering your power to the circumstance; patience is redeploying that power back to you.
Patience is not static. There is a misconception about patience, or the act of waiting, is just sitting there, doing nothing. In this, patience is a little like sleep. When we’re sleeping, it can appear that we’re doing nothing — we’re just sleeping. Sleep, however, is a highly dynamic process where the body is actively engaged in repairing itself. The mind is filtering and collating and processing the events of the day. In the same way, patience is an active time of remembering, reexamining, and recommitting to those things you know are true. Patience, like sleep, is the act of preparing for the new day to come.
Patience is optimistic expectation. The engine of patience is hope. Romans 5:3-4 is a wonderful passage that shows the connection between patience and hope: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” In this case, the patience piece is called perseverance. So, in that odd paradoxical way of Scripture, if you can hang in there despite the negative, you’ll arrive at the ultimate positive: hope. Apathy says, Give up; there is no hope. Patience says, Stick with it; there is reason to hope. You cannot be patient if you have given up all hope, because there would be nothing to be patient for.
Patience is a wise response to life. This life is offensive in so many ways. People can be cruel, mean, and hurtful. Circumstances can be sudden, unpredictable, and damaging. We may feel as if we live under siege from something or someone most of the time. In response, you could be angry and quick to explode. It is usually exhausting. Remaining in full battle mode is not a wise way to live your life. It produces incredible stress, alienates the people around you, and distorts your ability to enjoy and appreciate life.
Patience is an acquired trait. We are not born patient. Patience is something we need to grow into. It is a character trait learned through life expectations. Of course, may of us do not choose to acquire this trait. Those who fail to learn patience, however, are destined to continue to find themselves in situations where they’ll need it. The wise thing to do would be to learn the lesson, because trials and problems won’t change. The only thing you can truly change is yourself.
Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE in Edmonds, Washington, voted a top ten facility for the treatment of depression in the United States. Dr. Jantz pioneered Whole Person Care in the 1980’s and is a world-renowned expert on eating disorders, depression, anxiety, technology addiction, and abuse. He is a leading voice and innovator in Mental Health utilizing a variety of therapies including nutrition, sleep therapy, spiritual counseling, and advanced DBT techniques. Dr. Jantz is a best-selling author of 37 books and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN.