Learning to wait in hope

“The Doldrums, my young friend, are where nothing ever happens and nothing ever changes…. People who don’t pay attention often get stuck in the Doldrums.”
The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster

If any time of the year could be called the Doldrums, it must be this long, dark stretch of the calendar. From the moment the last twinkle light is packed until the moment the first Easter egg is cracked, reasons to celebrate are pretty scarce.

Without a major holiday or a vacation on the horizon, life can start to feel pretty gray, for parents and kids alike. In fact, if you live in the northern states, where clouds and slush dominate the scenery, the world can be quite literally gray. The parks are empty, the pools closed, and the only Vitamin D comes in the form of pills. Or fish. Or pills made from fish.

In this long, lenten period of fish and tedium, motivation can languish. School can feel aimless. The routine, monotonous. The soul, thankless.

The general mood, to use a technical term, is meh. Welcome to the Doldrums.

The chief feature of this time of year is the waiting. Waiting for Spring Break. Waiting for Easter. Waiting for graduation. Waiting for some reason to celebrate. And waiting is hard. But what makes it even harder is when we feel we are waiting without hope or a purpose. We lose sight of the joy set before us. That is what lands us in the Doldrums. But there is a way out.

This season is an opportunity to relearn patience—that forgotten virtue lying shriveled at the bottom of our spiritual fruit basket. Patience is waiting in hope. Patience sees the reward at the end of our momentary afflictions. Patience requires pushing back against our instant-gratification culture. Patience equips us to redeem the time during which we wait.

In fact, the lack of patient waiting is a culture-wide cancer with devastating consequences. Nowhere is this more evident than in the demand for sexual “freedom”—for taking what we want without waiting for the proper time. The only “proper time,” for the average American, is now. And the price is bloody and grim.

This is why it’s imperative that our kids learn at an early age to see the greater glory that comes to those who wait patiently on the Lord. If we indulge the desire for instant gratification when it comes to the cookie jar when our kids are little, we must not expect that impulse to diminish when it later comes to girls and cars and cash.

The consequences get bigger as the kid does, but the impulse remains the same. So teach the lesson of patient waiting—and its rewards—now. And what better time for learning that lesson than during this long, cold wait for spring flowers and caps and gowns and the joy of resurrection?

Get your kid out of the Doldrums and back into the race set before them by finding ways to redeem the time and by introducing small rewards that will remind them of the greater prize that comes through a life of patient endurance. Learning how to wait well will be a blessing not only to them but to their friends, their family, and to our culture at large.

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.”

—Psalm 130:5

Fight the Doldrums by rewarding patience

  • Work, then rest. The most important way to establish a pattern of patience and reward is through repeating the creation pattern of six days of work and a day of rest. Easter may still be far away, but Sunday is always coming—a weekly finish line to push toward. So make that day a joy. Make it a day of glad celebration to look forward to each week. Especially at this time of year.
  • A daily finish line. Establish a similar pattern, but on a smaller scale, for each day. Pushing through a tough afternoon of school work can be taxing, so always greet your kids with a hug and a smile. To sweeten the goal of finishing the day well, you might surprise them with a favorite snack, or a dish of ice cream when homework is done. Whatever you do, find small things that your kids can look forward to each day. It doesn’t have to be big to make the waiting worth it.
  • Greater patience, greater rewards. As kids get older, you can set bigger goals with greater incentives. The habit of steady, long-term faithfulness is something we all need help cultivating, so use this time of year to set goals that redeem the time. It might be a goal of finishing the New Testament before Easter, or resuming daily piano practice, or shoveling snow each morning for an elderly neighbor. But attach these loftier goals to a fitting prize at the end. Allow them to invite their friends to a dinner out. Or take the family to a movie. Or even set aside money for them to save for a summer day. Also consider including small rewards as they hit smaller milestones on their way to reaching their goal.

~Hannah K. Grieser

Hannah is an ACCS alumna and the mother of 5 sons, including one cancer survivor.  She lives in northern Idaho where, in addition to managing her family’s full schedule, she works as a writer and graphic designer.  She is the author of numerous articles and of the book The Clouds Ye So Much Dread (Canon Press, 2017).