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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Breaking Through the Blues

By David B. Crabtree

Feb. 21, 2010

In my coastal hometown, autumn was short and spring was late. Winters were long, dark and cold. Fog closed in for an average of 70 days per year. The city was old, tired, and perfumed by a massive pulp mill that continually belched a horrid raw-egg odor.

Our town was rumored to suffer the highest suicide rate per capita in all of Canada. No one doubted that weather contributed to our wintertime blues, especially when the newspaper reported that another poor soul couldn’t take it anymore and had jumped to an icy death in the waters below the falls.

I don’t recall anybody talking about “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (SAD), but its signs and symptoms were everywhere. The same dark coldness that chilled the fingers sent a shiver through the soul at the first freeze. The blues slipped out of hibernation, free to wander the short days and long nights of winter. Having since escaped to warmer climes, I wonder that my childhood was so normal in a place tailor-made for the study of SAD.

You don’t have to live in an old, cold, wet, pulp town to suffer the wintertime blues. I moved from that Canadian burg years ago and live in North Carolina now. I asked if anybody among my Facebook friends struggled with SAD, and several gave me immediate feedback. One friend testified about the effectiveness of “bright light” therapy. Others told of their absolute dread at the loss of daylight saving time. A couple of wives said that they were sure their husbands were affected, yet living in denial. Still others joined a collective moan-fest over the “shadow season” that closes our pools and beaches.

Researchers tell us that the wintertime loss of light creates a psychological depressive effect. Studies show that diminished exposure to light in the winter season is connected to a drop in melatonin and serotonin, affecting our sleep patterns and overall sense of well-being. Simply stated, when it gets dark, we get the blues. As a pastor, I often marvel at the negative effects of a dreary winter day on a morning worship service.

If you struggle with sagging spirits when the cold wind blows, there is hope! Life is all about seasons and cycles, mountains and valleys, sunshine and storms, dark nights and fog, but “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1, NKJV). God does not absent himself from our dark days. If we’re going to find help and hope in the hard seasons of life, we need the unfailing light and encouragement that come from God’s Word.

Our Creator also built into us a capacity to pursue healthy habits and relationships that counter life’s darker seasons. Here are a few tips to hold you until the springtime.

Eat right
We are integrated beings — body, soul and spirit. Without proper food as fuel we dis-integrate. Poor nutrition and lackluster care for one’s health affect the spirit. A junk food diet for the body has its own physical pitfalls, and you don’t have to avoid exercise for long to feel your energy reserves drain away. But such choices create havoc beyond the flesh. The body houses the spirit and, therefore, must be maintained for the best quality of life.

When the prophet Elijah reached a state of depression so deep that he wanted to die, God sent an angel to first feed his depleted body. Rest was then prescribed, and the prophet made it through the dark night of the soul (1 Kings 19:1-8).

The Bible teaches that man “shall not live by bread alone”; the spirit is nourished by the Word of God (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). We cannot expect to manage our moods if we will not fuel our minds with good things. Paul instructs the Philippians to be deliberate in the way that they feed the soul with “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8). Paul’s list of virtues for the soul could be compared to essential vitamins for the body. In Philippians 4:9 Paul says, “These do, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Isn’t God’s presence what we’re after? Is there any season we cannot endure if we know that the God of peace is with us? When the nights grow longer, grow stronger by feeding the soul on the good Word of God.

Embrace the season
When we were young, winter meant skiing, sledding, skating, snowballs, and hot chocolate with marshmallows. We had no trouble finding beauty and joy in the wiles of winter; we embraced it with gusto. We pulled on our sweaters and boots and built snow castles. We strapped on skis and blazed new trails. We owned the winter when we were young.

But then we grew weathered by years and no longer dressed for the season. We hid ourselves indoors. Instead of embracing the season we just tried to endure it. But should life be that way?

The Bible is filled with characters whose fire and fight, joy and power, and vision and hope stretched well beyond their youthful years. They didn’t surrender to inevitable age or succumb to the hard seasons. They learned that God is found wherever and whenever you look for Him (see Jeremiah 29:13).

Every season has its own beauty. Sometimes you just have to look for it. A cold, bitter night is often the best venue for seeing the stars. What can compare to the beauty of a fresh blanket of snow, or the quiet of the woods in winter? Chuck Swindoll, in his classic devotional book, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life, calls winter “a season of reverence.”

Must depression be an inevitable by-product of seasonal change? Certainly not! We have light on the inside that burns bright when the light from the outside has failed (Matthew 5:14). We have eyes to find beauty when the trees are stripped and the sky is gray. During winter, the land rests; we should too. The soul needs a breather, a time for restoration, a time for appreciation. If we will embrace the season with faith and look to God in all circumstances, we’ll find His strength in new ways and His beauty in new dimensions.

Avoid isolation
When winter storms play havoc with power lines and snow shuts down the city, we welcome the unexpected holiday calamity brings. But when storm follows storm and services cannot be quickly restored, celebration gives way to frustration and isolation. Cabin fever can strike in just a day or two.

The Bible clearly teaches that we were made for life together (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). We need each other. We help each other. We shouldn’t hide from each other. Adam was living in a garden paradise when God said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). If it wasn’t good for man to be alone in paradise, how much more do we need each other when the leaves die and the grass stops growing?

We need more than fellowship to hold us up in the shadow season; we need servanthood. When we are living only for ourselves, depression is inevitable. Our natural urge to isolate ourselves in a down cycle ensures its continuance. When we are living for a cause greater than self, the power of depression is greatly diminished. Our shorter days are filled with meaning, and our longer nights are more restful. In serving others, we gain the assurance that, though sometimes shadowed, our lives have purpose.

We do not have to be held hostage by drops in melatonin or serotonin. We are not captive to early sunsets or gray mornings. We can rise above the seasons of life because we know the Author of Life. If Christ has triumphed over death, hell and the grave, can He not then help us manage our emotions? If, in Christ, we are made more than conquerors (see Romans 8:37), surely as we live in His strength and are overshadowed by His love we can overcome the wintertime blues.

DAVID B. CRABTREE is lead pastor of Calvary Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Greensboro, N.C.

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