I have a theory. The colder and darker the season gets, the more susceptible we are to isolation and picking fights with others...especially on social media.
There are different "seasons of the soul" where our spirits face unique temptations. In the summer, these can be the allures of activity and pleasure at the expense of intimacy with God. And in the winter, freezing temperatures combined with an early sunset force us indoors and out of the company of others.
We stop going for walks and talking to our neighbors. We go to work and try to get home as quickly as possible, tucking the kids into bed so we can continue binge-watching our favorite TV program. We spend too much time on social media. And before we know it, we're arguing with some friend from high school about the number of penguins in Pennsylvania. (Hint: Not many, unless you count Pittsburgh)
Does any of this sound familiar?
So how do we beat the winter blues and allow our spiritual lives to flourish? The first step is to recognize the obvious: Winter is hard! Unless you're one of those crazy wackos who thinks winter is the best of the four seasons (in which case I have some excellent counselors I can recommend), these next few months will be some of the toughest of your calendar year. They're the time you're most likely to get depressed, anxious, irritable, bitter, annoyed, and every other negative character trait you want to insert.
Acknowledge this, and then come up with a plan of attack to beat your dreaded winter foe. Here are a few choices I'd recommend:
The other day, Janan and I were frustrated about something dumb. So dumb, I can't even remember what it was! After going back and forth for a few minutes, we both looked at each other and said, "It's winter!"
Recognize you're not the only one struggling. Others are experiencing your frustration. So reach out, make yourself available, and extend more grace to people when they're irritable.
I don't have social media on my phone. I don't even have email on my phone! At first, I thought this would be impossible. Too many people needed me. I was too important...yadda, yadda, yadda. Instead, now I wake up and you know what I don't do first thing? Check email or social media! It's great.
Along with this, set some strong TV parameters.
What is something you love to do? What refreshes you? What energizes you? For me, it's hockey. I'm 33, but every week I still play on a rec team and attempt to relive my glory years. Sometimes it's not convenient, but the camaraderie with other guys along with the excitement of competition gets my juices flowing.
Eat well, exercise, and take your vitamins. Since this is a newsletter and I can't see your face, allow me to shoot straight. As Christians, we're often keen to tell others how to live their lives. "Don't lie, don't steal, and don't have sex outside marriage." But sometimes we stink at the most basic forms of self-control.
Allow me to get personal. Over the past two years, I've interacted with some incredible Christian men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction. Their commitment to Christ means they willingly deny themselves the pleasures many Christians enjoy within a heterosexual union. What do they get in exchange? Sadly, often people inside the church who don't know what to do with them and people outside the church who think they're living lie by "not being true to themselves."
But these dozens of conversations have left me convicted. If my brothers and sisters can deny themselves their greatest form of sensual pleasure, I can certainly deny myself a few extra Twinkies over the holiday season. I'm being a bit facetious, but seriously, if our bodies are temples of God, we need to treat them that way. Eating tons of junk food, avoiding proper nutrition, and never exercising isn't funny. It sets a horrible example for others, makes us feel nasty, and does more damage to our spiritual walk with God than we realize.
I promise I'm not trying to throw shade. I've failed in this area plenty of times. But here are a few things I've found helpful.
- Exercise five times a week for at least thirty minutes a day. No excuses.
- Stop eating after 6 PM. I don't always get this one right, but Janan has lured me into her world of intermittent fasting. (16 hours off, 8 hours when you can eat) When I do it, I feel great!
- Take your vitamins. I used to think this was dumb...until I started taking them. Go figure! My current list? Vitamins B, C, D, and as many other ones as I can take. Also, if you're a dude, I'd recommend M-Drive. I'm not a sales rep, but I used to hit this mental wall at 2 PM every day. I felt like I needed to take a nap. But that stuff is super helpful and keeps me from getting "brain fog." There are also other benefits.
Make daily Bible reading a non-negotiable. If you're stuck, start a new Bible reading plan. Read more. Read slower. Read thoughtfully. Read prayerfully.
Along with the Bible, here are a few others suggestions. There was this guy that wrote Walking With a Limp. See if you can get a copy of it! You'll help feed three hungry kids in Nampa, Idaho with every copy you purchase. I've already mentioned Devotional Classics in a previous post. It's wonderful. Live No Lies by John Mark Comer is a book I'm going through now. I love it. How to Grow by my buddy Darryl Dash is another simple, yet practical read. If you're discouraged, The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken is fantastic.
If you've got a little extra time on your hands, why not shoot for a book a week? It's doable...especially if you count books like Philemon.
One of my highlights is taking my kids to volunteer at a local rescue shelter. Nothing glorious, nothing grand. But I always come away rejuvenated and grateful.
Winter can be tough. Don't hunker down. Get out. Love people. Talk to people. And help those who need an encouraging word.