Do you have the “winter blues” or, as some would label it, “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD)? You know the mild to more exaggerated changes in appetite, weight gain, irritability, anxiety, sleep abnormalities, muscle aches and difficulty concentrating among other soul-level symptoms that are ever more disconcerting. As this current winter season reaches it most intense levels before giving way to spring, I am finding that the emotional and physical dips are actually very beneficial when viewed against the backdrop of eternity. (This post is my therapeutic attempt to process my own SAD tendencies and allow them to be sanctified by the forever-settled-in-heaven truths of God’s Word. I hope it is a challenge and encouragement to others.)
Here are few:
They ironically provide the “hot water” needed to reveal what is already lurking in the “tea bag” of my heart that can easily be overlooked in the lukewarm glow of other seasons.
While I can honestly hardly wait until the dawn of spring, I am learning that I discover the most about me during this portion of the annual cycle ordained by God! I have embraced, as I mentioned in a sermon a few weeks ago, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Have you noticed that so many of our tragedies, broken relationships, and even deaths occur after the holidays and especially during the last spasms of winter? For example here at North Life, we had our church building broken into twice in one winter week and thousands upon thousands of dollars of ministry property stolen…I don’t need to tell you how frustrating that experience was a few years ago. Challenges and resistance felt under the cool skies of the present challenge my resolve to humbly admit my entitlement, selfishness, and defensiveness. I am more who I am as the raw winter winds blow than I will ever be basking on a sun-filled beach! I have discovered that I can never make more progress spiritually than I can during the short-but-long days we are stuck with right now.
Old camel-kneed James reminds us of much we cannot know or become without a wide range of challenges:
Ja 1:1-4 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
They painfully reveal how much I allow other’s level/lack of commitment around me to define my own tenacity and attitude.
Unfortunately many believers have one of two wrong responses to the winter blues: escapism to some warmer place/experience or hunker down and insulate from all risks and burdens that are viewed as optional. The first looks like an individual who may or may not actually go on a lengthy, tropic vacation but is perpetually fantasizing about doing so. The second fleshes out with a profile of total disregard or excessively delinquent approach to gospel-oriented priorities to the family, local church, and community. Both of these dysfunctions by others don’t discourage as much during moderate seasons, but they tend to hurt more and distract more during the hypersensitive onset of the “winter blues.” Instead of focusing upon others who “bail” I am learning to hone in on the intimate joy of being more easily able to get alone with the Lord!
I am thankful for the reminder the Lord gave the Elijah who felt like the “only faithful prophet”:
Ro 11:2-4 God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.
Note: For the record, those who do persist during the shortest days of the year are those you can count on to faithfully serve the Lord with you all of the year! (I love how those caliber of leaders distinctively rise to the surface during these seasons.)
Without the winter season, I cannot experience the exultation of spring dawning with all of its new light and life!
There is something about seeing the budding daffodils poking up through the flower beds and the renewed racket of birds and bugs that is intoxicating come spring…let alone the renewal of vibrant activity and fellowship that wane in the winter months. Without the “deadness” of winter, would the spring taste as sweet and significant? I wouldn’t mind trying to have it both ways, but the answer is obviously no. Therefore winter is the time to develop the healthy, God-honoring discipline of holy anticipation. My winter attitude exposes whether I am “walking by sight” or “walking by faith.”
Paul reminds us of what undergirds our sense of overwhelming corruption and futility:
1 Co 15:51- 58 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
By the way the most vibrant, productive springs are ALWAYS PRECEDED by tenacious focus and resilient effort IN THE WINTER! The winter is not the end but the means! For more on this subject here is another post on this subject, 10 Harvest Laws.
Are you willing to admit that while we don’t want winter, we need winter…probably more than any other season in the cycle of a fallen world tainted not just with global sin but your sin? I, after reflection of almost four decades of winter, believe that one of God’s most tender mercies is the refining realities of winter darkness in my life and your’s.
A few years ago, Clark Strand wrote on winter darkness, “In centuries past, the hours of darkness were a time when no productive work could be done. Which is to say, at night the human impulse to remake the world in our own image — so that it served us, so that we could almost believe the world and its resources existed for us alone — was suspended. The night was the natural corrective to that most persistent of all illusions: that human progress is the reason for the world. Advances in science, industry, medicine and nearly every other area of human enterprise resulted from the influx of light. The only casualty was darkness, a thing of seemingly little value. But that was only because we had forgotten what darkness was for. In times past people took to their beds at nightfall, but not merely to sleep. They touched one another, told stories and, with so much night to work with, woke in the middle of it to a darkness so luxurious it teased visions from the mind and divine visitations that helped to guide their course through life. Now that deeper darkness has turned against us. The hour of the wolf we call it — that predatory insomnia that makes billions for big pharma. It was once the hour of God.” (“Bring on the Darkness: Why We Need the Winter Solstice,” New York Times, Dec. 19, 2014)
No where is darkness more painful than for the person suffering from the winter blues. Don’t medicate yourself with “big pharma” or other even more “acceptable narcotics.” Turn to the God who has chosen to respond to our shortcomings with the bitterly sweet, sanctifying antidote of winter darkness. Remember the same God we claim to trust who guaranteed Noah the post-deluge warm moments also preserves the perpetuity of winter moments, “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Ge. 8:22).