The days grow shorter and darker. Fatigue, irritability, loss of interest in activities, lack of concentration, depression, and unhealthy eating …. an estimated one in four Americans feel the biological impact of winter. Up to 11 million are diagnosed with even more severe form of the “winter blues” in a medical condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately acronymized as SAD.)
Just as the calendar’s seasons impact our physical function, seasonal shifts are inevitable in our spiritual lives, too.
Diagnosing a Spiritual Winter
A season of spiritual barrenness and cold may or may not correspond to the winter months on the calendar. Yet the symptoms between the medical condition and the spiritual one are markedly similar.
Just as the winter blahs reveal themselves in lethargic listlessness, a spiritual winter reveals itself in indifference. Where previously you may have raged at God, begged Him for revelation, pursued Him energetically, or voiced deep passion, now you experience no such urgency.
The descent is gradual, similar to how daylight shortens by only a few minutes each day as autumn moves into winter. Quite simply, over time you lose interest in pursuing God.
In a spiritual winter, you’re not motivated to move beyond that state. It is much easier to hibernate comfortably in your faith, rather than face your apathy. You become dulled to God’s voice. Indifference is a gradual takeover of the idea that you’re OK because you are a believer and change doesn’t matter so much. Apathy has begun to work its subtle, dark damage.
The Prescription for Winter Blues
Medically speaking, winter blues’ main culprit is light – or lack of it, to be more exact. Reduced sunlight disrupts your body’s internal clock, causes a drop in serotonin (a brain chemical which affects mood), and melatonin (which regulates sleep and mood patterns.) The human body drains itself, trying to compensate for what it misses.
That’s why the most common prescription for Seasonal Affective Disorder is exposure to light, whether in spending more time outdoors, with prescriptive light boxes, or even taking a winter vacation to a sunny location.
In scripture, light is a symbol of God’s presence and movement. A spiritual winter creeps upon us when God’s presence seeps out of our lives. The prescription for a spiritual winter mimics the medical prescription: exposure to the light … in this case, through His Word and His presence. Time with God begets a passion for Him.
Those affected by medical winter blues take steps to prepare themselves for the inevitable barren season. Likewise, the cure for spiritual winter is best when preemptive. Jesus said, “Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you.”
Spiritually speaking, so can we.