It’s February in Louisville, and we haven’t seen the sun for more than ten minutes all winter. The air is wet and cold, the kids are sniffly, and it’s the time of year when you just feel blah. So what do you do with these feelings? How do you escape the blanket of depression that settles over many of us this time of year? Wait until spring? Binge on Netflix? Go shopping?
Getting rid of the winter doldrums is the subject of a lot of conversation this time of year. Some suggest you can buy a happy lamp or maybe exercise more. You may have seen the buzz about what the Danish call “hygee”—their secret to happiness despite almost year round winter. But as Christians, we have a secret of our own. We don’t just have a better way to handle the winter blues; we don’t just apply a more “spiritual” solution to the problem. We know why God gave us feelings in the first place. And because we know why we have emotions, we know what do with them.
Emotions are from God. That much is clear. He is the one who created us with the capacity to feel happy and sad, fearful and hopeful. God gave us emotions so that we might know him more fully. And so that we might experience and respond to the world that he created. Now sin got in and created a mess of things. It damaged the world we live in and our emotional response to everything that happens around us. Thus, on the minor end of things, we have the winter blues.
In this past year of studying emotions and feelings, we’ve learned one thing for sure: emotions are complicated. You can’t always figure out where your feelings come from or why they shift all of a sudden, or why they won’t leave at all. Maybe it is the winter weather. Or it could be my hormones. Or am I’m finally going crazy over here? Tracing the varied sources of every emotion is a fruitless endeavor. We may never know. But we can always know where emotions are supposed to take us. Our feelings should always move us back to God.
So what do we do when winter weather seems to drag our feelings down? James says it as clear as anyone: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” (5:13). In other words, whatever you feel, move to God. If you feel sad, pray to God. If you feel happy, sing to God. Don’t hesitate, don’t put it off, don’t wallow in your yucky feelings. Move to God! Feelings—high and low—should drive and propel us to God’s Word, to prayer, and to church. Our confusing, unpleasant emotions should cause us to cry out to God for grace.
And so, a blue winter mood can actually be a glorious opportunity. A chance to turn to God. You see, our depressed feelings reflect the reality that this world cannot satisfy our restless hearts. The winter doldrums remind us that we were created for something more. Our joyless days reveal that we may have been seeking our joy in something other than God. Often, it’s not until we feel the coldness of our hearts that we become aware of our need for the warmth of God’s grace.
But if we move to God, the winter blues can be transformed into a season of grace. Our frigid hearts can blaze brightly with the fire of love for Christ, once again. When we cry out to God, he revives our feelings of love for Christ which have grown cold. We must not let a depressed mood drive us deeper into listless self-pity and self-absorption. We shouldn’t let the winter blues pull us into an online coma or a tv show binge. Rather, our depressed emotions should be a marvelous motivator. A catalyst to drive us to God.
Winter won’t last forever. One day soon the hot summer sun will shine and we’ll probably (to our shame!) be complaining about the infernal heat. But even more certain is what will happen to the emotions of those who believe in Jesus Christ. One day, all of our feelings will coalesce and culminate in pure joy and love for God. We will know ecstatic raptures of his presence. And we don’t have to wait. We can warm our hearts in the glow of the gospel of Jesus Christ today. As the old hymn puts it, “I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of his face.”
How do you feel? There are, no doubt, as many shades and shadows of emotions, as there are women reading these words. But no matter what you are feeling, you can know one thing for certain: your feelings are intended to move you to God. Look to him in your restless despair. Praise him in your happiness. Thank God that through Jesus Christ you can come to him, no matter what you feel today. You can have a foretaste of the joy of heaven, even in “bleak midwinter.”