Winter has a way of reminding me I can’t control every aspect of my life.
Ever since I was young, I have loved the seasons. The unique feel, tastes and rhythms of nature have always whispered to me that there is more going on than meets the eye. Which is why I fully believe that God has written his story of redemption into the seasons we experience. Summer is a time of growing and thriving, fall is a time of harvesting, winter is a time of darkness where all feels dead and buried, but in reality, new life is stirring right underneath the surface, and spring is the season of rebirth. Which sounds a lot like another story I know.
Maybe this is why I find the winter to be a time of spiritual contemplation, a season of learning to slow down and look for the new life that is stirring in my soul. Just as life is woven together in the darkness of a womb, or the darkness of a seed in soil, or Jesus in a tomb, so too can our lives find gestation in the long dark of winter. The cold may feel uncomfortable, but sometimes life is about finding consolation in places of discomfort. I had to learn this lesson the hard way.
A few years ago, my family moved from San Diego to Denver. By our second full winter in our new state, I realized winter demands a different pace of living. So why was this so hard for me? My intense need to achieve was the culprit. I felt the need to maintain a constant pace, and when the cold or darkness threatened to slow me down, I pushed harder, pretending that nothing could impede my ability to be productive. Especially in the month of December, when I was frantically doing, buying and showing up for the commitments and events the holidays necessitate. While I was running around at a breakneck pace, the ground was still and quiet; the miracle of gestation was happening just below the surface. The days were short and the nights were long, but I continued at a pace worthy of mid-summer and wondered why I was tired and depressed. This is how I realized I was not utilizing the seasons effectively. In particular, I was missing out on the regenerative process that winter offers.
Last winter, I found myself lying in bed, unable to push the covers back, so worn out that my body shouted to me and demanded that I rest. I conceded. I slept for a whole day and then laid in bed for a whole day after that. My kids watched too much TV and we all ate cereal for dinner. I stared at the barren trees and monochromatic landscape outside my window. And that short period of two days, resting and daydreaming – luxuries I rarely allowed – restored my energy. The landscape outside reminded me that my own internal rhythm needed winter just as much as the world around me did.
Just as the earth experiences the long dark nights of mid-winter, so too can our spiritual life. When I began to harmonize my life with the cycles of the seasons rather than pretending the different rhythms shouldn’t affect me, I noticed my inner life recalibrate in profound ways. I realized my spiritual life had seasons as well. There have been seasons in my journey with God that have felt like winter. And when the light was bleak, I furiously rubbed sticks together, trying to manufacture warmth and light. But my efforts were futile, because no matter how hard I tried to coerce God to feel near it, it never came when I forced it. I learned the long dark night of the soul wasn’t something to fight against. Rather, my job was to sit and rest, without fear that God wasn’t near, even if I couldn’t sense him. I learned that I can trust the divine ebb and flow of a spiritual walk, because some seasons will feel warm and wonderful like summer and others will feel bleak and lonely like winter.
I am always looking for tangible practices to help me remember these truths. Here are some of the ways I have practiced enjoying the different experiences of winter in my own life.
Burning and setting ablaze. I light a fire and feel the warmth and light that it brings. Then I get two pieces of paper, and on the first, I write down things I need to rid myself of – fears, anxieties, addictions, distractions. Then I burn that page in the fire, asking God to consume to ash the things I need to get rid of. On the second page, I invite new light and inspiration into my heart as I enter mindfully into a new season. I pray over that page, asking God to set it ablaze, and for the fire to burn with warmth, strength and passion. I end this ritual by giving thanks for God’s goodness and gathering with people with whom I love to tell stories and share good conversation about our hopes for the future.
Taking a night walk. I notice the inky black sky and how early darkness has come. I appreciate how the stars and moon are offering their beauty during the prolonged evening.
Listening to my body. I allow it to rest, to sleep, to warm itself. Often it feels indulgent or selfish to care for myself. How can I find the time to take care of my body and soul when all the other bodies around me have such pressing needs? It seems to me that somewhere along the journey we women have decided it is OK to run ourselves ragged as long as everyone else is taken care of. Maybe it is time to call a truce. To listen to what our bodies are saying. And just as we rush to care for a crying baby or a hungry toddler, we extend that same care to ourselves. What if we remembered that our bodies and souls need the same care we give to the people we love the most?
May this winter bring rest and a new awareness that rebirth is happening just below the surface.
(This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Hello, Dearest.)
Mandy Arioto is the President and CEO of MOPS International, and is widely known for her unique takes on parenting, relationships, spiritual and cultural issues. Through MOPS, which influences millions of moms through thousands of groups internationally, Mandy serves as the voice of one of the most influential parenting organizations in the U.S. and around the world. Mandy has been featured on MSN.com, TheKnot.com, TheNest.com and FOX. She regularly speaks to national and international audiences. She and her husband, Joe, live in Denver, Colorado with their three awesome kids.