The Winter That Would Not Go Away... That’s what my taxi driver called this winter we are living through. It’s been long, cold, and sometimes brutal. Over a two-week stretch in February, we had five snows (some of them big snows). We have had the winter they wish they’d had in Sochi! We’ve seen single digit lows at night. Therefore most snows did not have a chance to melt before the next snow arrived. Thus there has been new snow on old snow on ice on more old snow, etc. So, to quote John Steinbeck, the winter that would not go away is turning into the winter of our discontent. And, just when everyone hoped it might go away, good old Punxsutawney Phil said we should brace ourselves for six more weeks!
So, how do we survive winter?
A Discovery Channel show recently examined the lives of people who work in the wilderness areas of northern Alaska where the nights are exceedingly long and the temperatures make what we’ve been going through seem like a breath of spring. The announcer said that in order to remain physically strong, those workers need three things: adequate rest, a supply of food, and a source of warmth.
As I reflect on his words, they seem to comprise a reasonable prescription for spiritual health, as well. The very first chapter in the Bible says, “On the seventh day God rested.” If even God occasionally needed a break from the work of creating and managing the Universe, then it’s reasonable that you and I might need an occasional break, too. Whatever your role, whatever your work, whatever smaller universe you try to manage, and however much you enjoy it, all work and no play not only makes Jack a dull boy but can make Jack a spiritually dead one. That’s why Hebrew scripture makes so much of the idea of Shabbat (Sabbath). From time to time we need to relax, refresh, and refuel. If we do not take care of our own personal needs, we will not be adequately equipped to take care of anything or anyone else, either. From time to time we need to rest.
Then there’s food (my personal favorite of the three). Just as the body needs a source of nutrition to live and function well, so does the soul. So, from time to time I need to ask: What am I feeding myself spiritually? What thoughts and images am I focusing on that make me better and stronger? Because, what I feed my mind is what I will become! That’s what the book of Proverbs is getting at when it says: “Whatsoever people think in their hearts, so they are.” By making certain that my spiritual diet includes prayer, scripture, positive imaging, and worship, I am feeding my soul the foods that make it strong.
That third requirement for health was “a source of warmth.” During the week of Valentines, I saw a verse on a card. It said: “As sunshine warms the morning, so does your love warm my life.” Nice. How often have you heard someone refer to being loved as making them feel as “warm and happy”? In terms of loving and being loved, the word “warm” is almost a synonym for “safe,” “secure,” or “comfortable.” In moments of self-doubt or guilt or loneliness, I find it helpful to remember a word from scripture: “By this is the love of God revealed, that while we were yet unworthy, Christ gave his life for ours.” That’s how much we are loved. You and I are loved unconditionally, without limit, never having to earn it. And there is something safe and warm about claiming that truth. We are God’s, and therefore we are loved. When life feels cold or disturbing, I find strength and solace in remembering that I am loved.
How do we survive the winter times of life? One way is to focus on the necessities: rest, food, and warmth. Spiritually those necessities remind me of the need for Sabbath, the importance of what I feed my soul, and the undeniable reality that I am loved. Hang onto those three things, and soon the spring sun will begin to shine in your spirit.