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How to Find Hope in the Midst of Winter Blues

How to Find Hope in the Midst of Winter Blues

I am sitting at my dining room table with a cup of tea. For a brief time each afternoon, if the sun is shining, it shines most brightly in here, creating a warm patch of light that creeps from one end of the room to the other.

On lazy winter weekend afternoons, my nine-year-old son, nose in a book, slides a chair across the dining room floor, bit by bit, reading in the center of the sunlight for as long as it lasts. “It’s like a natural heater, Mom! It’s warm!”

The cat and the dog make similar rounds in and around the house, leaning toward the sun like plants on a windowsill.

It’s late winter now, but there’s almost a foot of snow on the ground, still, and the cold is record-breaking: too cold for the long walks the dog and I both love. Yet I am cheerful and full of hope, because the hours of light are growing slightly longer each day.

Only in my mid-twenties did I finally recognize that the light that shines -- or doesn’t -- each day and each week and each month dramatically affects my mood. I had heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder, of course, but I didn’t quite believe it was real.

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That is, until I lived in Scotland for three winters.

I first had an inkling of what was to come when, after church, I spied one of my most cheerful friends, who was in fact named after Galadriel, the Lady of Light in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, carrying a box containing a therapeutic light.

“What have you got there?” I asked, feeling alarmed. If this naturally cheerful woman needed a mood-enhancing lamp to get through winter, what was it going to be like for me?

“Well…” She shrugged. “Winter here is hard.

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And it was. Each year, as the autumn leaves fell and the light waned, I gave myself little pep talks. “It’s just weather. It’s just winter. Doesn’t last forever. You’ll make it through. No reason to be sad.”

But reason can’t reckon with days and days of darkness.  Even on clear days, the sun didn’t fully rise until well past 9, and was completely down before 4, barely reaching the tops of the trees on the horizon. If a day was cloudy, it felt as if several long nights had been strung together on a thread of twilight.

The third winter in Scotland, when I had an infant and a toddler to care for, I sat in the doctor’s office with tears in my eyes, lamenting:

“It’s so hard to get out of the house with two little ones as it is, but with it being dark all the time, it feels like, ‘what’s the point?’ And when the sun does shine, it is so low in the sky that it shines into my windows at an unfortunate angle, hurting my eyes when I do the dishes and highlighting every piece of dust and dirt in my house. And that makes my mood even worse!”

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My doctor clucked sympathetically, then smiled. “Well,” she said “that’s the first time I have ever heard that particular complaint about winter -- that the sun highlights the dirt in your house -- but it certainly makes sense.”

One of the reasons that I love the church calendar -- observing Advent in the weeks leading up to Christ’s nativity and Lent in the weeks leading up to Easter -- is that, at least for those of us living well North of the Equator, these points in the church year ground us in the season we are in, and offer us hope.

In Advent, we wait, as days grow shorter, for the coming of the Light of the World, the Bright One that shines in the darkness. In Lent, we see snow thaw and trees bud and crocuses raise their Easter-egg colored heads out of the ground that seemed dead -- all while we wait to celebrate the day that promises that all things will be made new; that death and darkness will not have the victory.

To me, one of the loveliest things about the vision of the New Heaven and New Earth in Revelation 22 is that “there will be no more night,” and that we will not need “the light of a lamp” nor even “the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give [us] light.” (v.5) This suggests to me that my love of the light -- yours too? -- is more of a spiritual longing than I might have guessed.

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The joy I sense, sitting here in the patch of warm sun that’s starting to fade from my window as spring creeps closer, is merely a taste of the joy of the world to come, where the Lord will wipe away ever tear -- even those shed in the throes of seasonal depression -- and be our endless day and endless light, forever and ever.

Rachel Marie Stone is a regular columnist for The Englewood Review of Books and has contributed to Christianity Today, InTouch, OnFaith, Books and Culture, The Christian Century, and Sojourners, among other publications. Her first book, Eat With Joy: Redeeming God's Gift of Food, won the CT Book Award for Christian Living. She is also the author of The Unexpected Way, a book about the Gospels for children. Rachel lives near Philadelphia with her husband and two sons. You can find her blogging on food, family, faith, and justice at Patheos and follow her on Twitter at @Rachel_M_Stone.

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