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Jan18MonWe need a spirituality that sustains us through these dark days. January 18, 2021 by Captain Laura Van Schaick
In 2004, psychologist Cliff Arnall christened the third Monday in January “Blue Monday.” According to him, a mix of winter blues, debt from the holidays and broken new year’s resolutions culminate in what has been dubbed “the most depressing day of the year.”
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- Opinion & Critical Thought
Many psychologists now say the formula Arnall used has been successfully discredited and claim there is no such thing as the most depressing day of the year.
Except for me, it hasn’t been debunked.
I live with a condition called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Each year, as the weather turns colder, I am plunged into a winter of the soul, coloured by depression. Anxiety clouds my decision-making, my productivity suffers and some days it’s all I can do just to get out of bed. All of this affects the health of my relationships and my sense of self-worth. And while exercise, a healthy diet, regular check-ins with friends, vitamin D and light therapy all help, the truth is that some days are darker than I’d like, and Blue Mondays abound.
In these dark days, I sometimes feel like the Psalmist, whose soul groans: “Has [God’s] unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time?” (Psalm 77:8). For me, the hardest part of this disorder is that there are times when I feel as if God is distant, far off, out of reach.
Historian and theologian Martin E. Marty notes that we all need what he calls “a wintry spirituality” for times when the warmth and joy of life is taken away from us and a sunny disposition or positive thinking are not enough to bring them back. Like the season itself, a winter of the soul is bleak, cold and dark. He shares that “in the discussion of the absence of God is where [his] presence is most felt, that in the wintry spirituality, one sees more clearly. You see the structure of the tree when the leaves are gone. You see the full horizon when all the bushes are down.”
This has also been my experience. On those days when I lack the energy to engage in activities that just recently filled me with joy, I feel called to take a posture of respite as I lean into God even more. And so, I imitate much of creation in the winter months: I do less, I rest more, I hold on, I wait for spring. If the trees and animals can hibernate, perhaps I can, too. And it is there that I am reminded of God, and I remember that it is God who sustains me throughout this season.
This also proves to be true for the Psalmist, who lays his soul bare before God, and then turns toward trust: “Then I thought … ‘I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago’ ” (Psalm 77:10-11).
In a wintry season of the soul, when we can’t sense God’s presence or feel spiritual growth within us, it can be helpful to remember the ways God has been there for us in the past, and to trust that God is with us still.
My home is full of mementoes of remembrance—travel photos and old journals, memorabilia from my grandparents, and canvases with acrylic prints of my children’s feet. On dark days, these remind me of God’s faithfulness and goodness.
And I read Scripture. When my soul feels empty, I read and remember the stories of days past. I often recite the prayers recorded in the Psalms when I don’t know what to pray myself.
Somewhat paradoxically, in those days when God seems distant, it is then that I draw even closer to him. Because when I need to rely on God just to get out of bed in the morning, when I need to look to God for grace and assurance every time depression takes away my ability to contribute to my family or community, God uses those moments to strengthen my faith.
Our God, if we let him, uses the difficult, bittersweet moments in our lives, including depression, to remind us that he is with us always. His light shines brightest in the darkest moments, and we can see how goodness and blessing are present in the most difficult of times.
I once heard a rewriting of the famous Footprints poem. This time, rather than footprints in the sand, it was footprints in the snow. The image made me weep, because I know it to be true: in those wintry moments when I am too weak to walk, it is Jesus who carries me.
Captain Laura Van Schaick is the divisional secretary for women’s ministries in the Ontario Division.
Photo: mikdam/iStock via Getty Images Plus