The winter I refer to is a Midwest winter, which is the only kind I know.
For all but five years of my life I have resided in Kansas or Illinois. Winter in these places is unpredictable; I remember more than one Christmas on which we could go outside without jackets or gloves, and, as I write this in early February in Chicago, we are expecting 6 to 12 inches of snow in the next two days.
Winter, for many of us, becomes an interior time. We stay inside to keep warm, and most of us are inclined to nestle down with hot drinks, movie channels, or piles of books to read. Except for people who find outdoor sports for every season, we feel more limited in what we can do beyond home. And, of course, the skies are dark more hours of the day, and that triggers us biologically to seek shelter and sleep.
Quiet and inactivity can become unnerving. When I’m busy and moving from here to there, it’s easier to avoid the conflicts and questions that simmer within. But what happens to me internally when harsh weather keeps me at home? It frustrates me because, when at home, I become much more aware of all the home tasks that need doing. Every room bears a reminder of something not yet finished. It tires me because there are only so many movies a person can watch, only so much entertainment that satisfies. It frightens me because, left to myself, eventually I must listen to my self-chatter—and who knows where that will lead?
And what if I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? During darker months, I will be more inclined to depression due to chemical deficiencies. For some people, winter can become a long desolation—a time of fighting for equilibrium, of feeling a bit lost, and of losing passion for relationships (including the Divine relationship).
I’ve learned a couple of things about winter through the years, and I think they bear mentioning.
1. Allow the instinct to huddle and seek comfort to take you only as far as it’s helpful.
Our instincts serve a purpose. However, they are only instincts, and a human being must apply to her situation reason, faith, and discipline. In the same way you refrain from lying under the sun all day in the summertime—because you’d rather avoid sunburn and heat stroke—you can refrain from curling into a self-protective ball and staying that way for months. I’ve heard from people who live through truly severe winters—in Minnesota or Montana—that a person must go out into the weather with intention, face it regularly, or else she will feel victimized by it and become immobilized.
2. Create practices specifically for this time of year.
For instance, I find it easier to keep my morning prayer time in the winter by turning on a space heater in the sitting room and preparing a hot drink. It’s still dark outside, but I’m comfortable enough to linger with Scripture, meditation, or conversational prayer. Look at your inclinations and struggles and structure what you need: an evening out once a week with a couple of friends, even if you visit one another at home; ample time to read and watch what truly feeds you, whether it’s murder mysteries or travel documentaries. Use this interior time to care for yourself. Every person needs feeding on multiple levels, so take advantage of the long dark evenings to find what inspires you. Allow the gift of memory to fuel some time with your journal, or create a scrapbook—physical or online—to help you remember a certain weekend last summer or a family gathering that was especially important to you.
And I will add this: if winter brings up those simmering issues that become troublesome, make time to seek out a spiritual director, counselor, or whatever help is appropriate.
The Holy Spirit continues dwelling and working within us, no matter the season. And I believe that changes in our situation bring changes in how this intimate ministry takes place. When life shifts, the Spirit shifts with us. As seasons come and go, Divine love holds us close.
Contributor: Vinita Hampton Wright
Vinita Hampton Wright has been a book editor in the religion market for 26 years, serving as editor for Loyola Press for 19 years. She's an author of fiction (Dwelling Places, HarperOne) and nonfiction (The Soul Tells a Story, IVP; The Art of Spiritual Writing, Loyola Press). Wright presents workshops and retreats on writing, creativity, prayer, and Ignatian spirituality. She lives in Chicago with her husband.