Turning Patience into Joy at Summer Camp 2013
When patience isn’t quite enough – finding joy with our summer campers
One of the most common things I hear when I discuss working with children is that people would like to work on their patience. They’ll admit that, at times, they become impatient with their children, and this leads to feelings of regret. The oft-quoted verse from Galatians affirms that patience is a quintessential component of the Spirit itself:
Galatians 5: 22-23 says:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
But what is patience? Is it the simple suppression of a negative feeling, like boredom, anger, or frustration? Is that the purity of emotion that Jesus hoped we would seek? Or is there something more?
Indeed, it seems like going from open impatience with children to suppressing outright demonstrations of anger and frustration is a step in the right direction. We certainly require that our summer camp staff do their absolute best to not outwardly display impatience.
But last summer, one of our camp counselors taught us something brand new about patience. Something that has completely rewritten a portion of the Vanderkamp-Method “rule book.” I’d love to share that story with you now.
A Summer Camp Counselor Redefines Patience
During summer camp 2012, a young woman came to camp that many would classify as having “special needs.” She became overstimulated easily. She was very demanding of attention. She was considered to be underdeveloped emotionally. She would love and hug you one minute, and lash out the next, if she felt you weren’t meeting her exact need. We had been warned by her pastor, her mother, her peers: this was a girl that was hard to deal with.
So she came to summer camp, and we expected to need to be patient with her. Many counselors rose to the presumed challenge, but there was one counselor in particular who was really going above and beyond. Every morning she would brush his long hair at breakfast. He would walk with her from place to place, allow her to vent emotions, and listen to long stories where she claimed herself a victim. He did this all without complaint. Impressed with his incredible tolerance, I approached him.
“Hey, Matt,” I said, “I am just so impressed with how patient you’ve been.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“With [the young girl],” I responded. “It seems like it’s been a demanding situation, and you haven’t batted an eye. I’m so thankful that she has you to work with her.”
“Oh. Thanks. It doesn’t really feel like “patience,” though. I like working with her. She needs help, and most people don’t give her a chance. But this is why I came here to be a counselor. I am the one who ought to be thankful to get a chance to work with her.”
I walked away, stunned. Then I turned it over in my head. I was witnessing true Christ-like patience here. He wasn’t silently steaming, waiting for her to stop yelling about things. He wasn’t checking his watch, hoping she’d be done brushing his hair so he could go play games in the field. He required no breathing exercises to make it through his time with her. He didn’t resent the time he spent with her at all. He relished it. He knew she needed help, and was grateful to be the one helping.
In that moment, he totally redefined for me what I hope for in myself when being patient. Jesus wasn’t hoping we could mask our frustrations and show a condescending patience to some inferior person who was frustrating us, or hoping that we could sit around quietly, “being patient,” while wishing away some boring time in our lives. Jesus was hoping we would be grateful for all moments in our lives, and especially those where we can give of ourselves for others.
Each moment is one given from God – and we can cultivate our own perspective on it. For Matt, patience in what would be conventionally challenging moments meant finding joy in them. Once we become so patient that we no longer feel the need to access our patience, we have turned one fruit of the spirit into another – we’ve turned patience into joy.
The word “patience” has a lot of emotional baggage attached to it in modern culture. At Vanderkamp, we’re working to establish that patience be just a step in the journey. A necessary incremental change before becoming truly joyful in challenging moments in life, but one that can be a pit stop, and not the final destination.
Our summer camp staff, this year, will be learning ways to transcend patience to help our summer campers in 2013 feel even more loved than they did last year. We absolutely can’t wait.
Some bonus tools to practice patience:
1) Counting frustrations: This is a powerful practice that requires one to keep a note-taking device on oneself. The task is simple: record the amount of times in a day that you outwardly express frustration. If you have time, make a note as to why. Then, establish a goal for yourself. This can be as simple as reducing the total expressed frustrations per day, or to stop becoming outwardly frustrated by a given thing. It is a common misconception that this would be “bottling things up,” but the opposite is true. Outwardly expressing frustrations has been shown to more tightly bind us to whatever caused the frustration, as our natural response will be to justify our reactions. Once you’ve mastered your outward frustration, this practice can be taken a step further to record positive and negative thoughts in a day. This is an intense practice that, for some, can be life changing.
2) Catching our thoughts: Many in Western culture tend to leave very little time between feeling an emotion and acting on it. One of the principle keys to becoming patient is recognizing feelings before they govern our actions. A great practice for creating gap time between emotions and outward responses is asking oneself, “Well, it seems like anger is arising in me. What should I do about this?” Once an action has been taken, it can not be taken back. By creating a gap time between the arrival of an emotion and our reaction to it, we allow our logical mind to handle more situations than our emotional mind. This is a great preventative to our logical mind scolding our emotional mind after our emotional mind has caused someone else harm through impatience.
The Vanderkamp Center is working to redefine the adult-child relationship by providing a love-centered Christian summer camp near Syracuse, Utica, and Rome. We also offer retreat facilities year round – we hope to see you soon!