Winter in small town South Dakota is hard. First off it's flat out cold. The 36" of snow on the ground and the 700 mile per hour winds are just icing on the cake. Those are the obvious hardships. The one that people may may not think about is the few hours of daylight. The sun doesn't really come up till about 7:30 AM, and in the dead of winter, the sun begins to set about 4:45-5PM. You know, if you live in a small town, there is not a whole ton to do. To top it all off is the 4 month long sinus infection that Winter brings along. Those 'small town Christmas Hallmark Movies' dont exactly paint an accurate picture of a small town Winter in the North.. Winter can be... well... depressing.
Do you ever experience these "Winter time blues" in your spiritual life? Maybe you are in a spiritual "Winter"- or a season of life where you're just spiritully down. Maybe this is due to falling to temptation, maybe it's due to other Christians letting you down, maybe it's due to a lack of spiritual growth, or spiritual motivation. Spiritual Winter leaves you feeling very distant from God. Perhaps your life has gotten so busy that your spirituality has been left to just 'going through the motions.' Sometimes spiritual "Winter" is brought on by trials and tragedy in our lives. We all experience these spiritual "Winter" seasons. Where our spiritual lives are 'bleh.'
I want to offer just a few tips for weathering spiritual Winter, and pressing on to a warmer and brighter season of life. I first want to say that nothing prevents spiritual winter. We can be sure that spiritual winter is coming. Nobody is exempt from spiritual lows and challenging times. That being said, these tips will help us move through these winters!
1) Look up. The first thing a spiritual Winter can teach us is how to pray, and how to rely on The Lord. James 5:13 says "is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray..." Another aspect of "looking up" is having the perspective of "what may God be trying to teach me right now?" Is God trying to teach me patience? Loving my enemies? Is he teaching me self control? Is He simply teaching me to trust His plan for my life? I am reminded of Joseph. When Joseph's brothers sell him into slavery, yet everything works out just as God had planned, Jospeh states "what you meant for evil, God meant for Good" (Genesis 50:20).
2) Look around. Second, spiritual Winters teach us the importance of the family of God. The Lord's Church is amazing. I am afraid we (specifically in The United States) under-utilize the Church. We NEED the church. God's design is that we have a built emotional support system, built in financial security, built in friends an family. Not only do we need to be looking for brothers and sisters who need our support, we need to be willing to speak up when we need help and support. Let's also quit getting annoyed and looking down on those who are quick to ask for help from the Church. "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." (Romans 12:15) "So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10). In spiritual Winter, REACH OUT!! It's what the church is for. The Church in America will remain "just that place we go on Sunday to have superficial conversations" unless we go out of our way to help those who need help, and reach out when we need help!
3) Look Forward. Look ahead. Try and look through winter. Find the thing that keeps you going. For a Christain, this is not a hobby, this is not a TV show, it's not coffee, it's not work, it's not weekends at the lake, it's not the gym. NO, what keeps US going is the unfading joy of eternity. The reason that we do not put our hope in the things listed above is because those things are fading. Think about eternity. Read about eternity. Write down Scripture about eternity. Memorize Scripture about eternity. "For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:17-18) "Therefore, preparing your minds for action and being sober minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be revealed to you at the revealtion of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:13).
4) Look Within. Spiritual Winter calls for looking within yourself. Biblcally, our minds have the power to turn Spiritual Winter into bright, warm days. Is it possible that our spiritual Winters are sometimes simply a result of our perspective? I think so.. Sometimes during literal Winter, I spend all my focus thinking about how miserable the weather is, how dark it is, how gloomy it is, how lame Winter in small town South Dakota is.. When instead, I could bust out a deck of cards, invite a couple friends over and have a great evening. Just because it's Winter, doesn't mean that life isn't worth living- it's all about perspective. Winter is 1/4 of the year. Am I going to wollow in self pity for 3 months? Or am I going to embrace the weather, think about how to enjoy it, and chnage my perspective? I like option 2 better.
Spiritually, sometimes the only thing keeping a spiritual Winter dark and dreary is the way we are looking at it. We must learn to quit looking out--at why things are going so poorly and when things are going to get better, and start looking inward-- "do I need to change my mind about the things going on in my life?"
"Consider it all joy when you fall into various trials" (James 1:2).