Some say that we are currently in the most depressing days of the calendar year. And why wouldn't we be? After much fanfare, we no longer have the holidays to look forward to. The wonder of meditating by a manger at God-become-man is tucked away for next Advent and Christmastide. The fancy meals are past. The exciting anticipation that fuels planning and shopping has waned. Concerts, recitals, plays, ballets, and candle lit gatherings with those we love are now an increasingly distant memory. The fun is over and the glamorless work of every day returns.
On top of this letdown, darkness invades. The long, dim days of winter are compounded. The post-holiday credit card bills and realization that our financial burdens are excessive seem enlarged like a grim shadow on a twilit wall. No more twinkling outdoor Christmas lights to quicken our hearts and gladden our faces. Cabin fever is at a pitch, and the coldest weather of the season descends upon us with whipping fury. It reminds of the line from CS Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, where Mr. Tumnus declares it is, "Always winter, and never Christmas." How dismal!
Getting back-to-school this time of year can be as difficult, if not more difficult, as it is in the fall. Our children can find themselves dreading the return to teachers that they don't quite mesh with, or students who have been unkind to them, or school work they struggle to understand. Combine that with semi-annual appointments that families like ours face, and January can be uglier still. Even after the visits to the rheumatologist with our eldest, to the hematologist with the middle child, and to the asthma/allergy specialist with the youngest are complete, our family is still left unsettled because mom has a hard time creating a rhythmic routine for everyone in the midst of all this. Confronting those school relationships and academics are also difficult when a child needs to be pulled out for these appointments with specialists. What can a parent in this situation look forward to?
There is a hope in the midst of this heavy, neverendingness of winter. While this "Cheesehead" mom was eager that hope might lay in post-season play for her beloved Packers, it was not meant to be. Joking aside, God has a much better plan that stretches far beyond the joyful anticipation of Superbowls, and Olympics, and holidays, and birthday parties, and any special occasion we can conjure up in this temporal, ever-changing life. And there will be no let-down once this hope is fulfilled, only a perpetual basking in the glory of it.
When I am weighed down by the heaviness of a seemingly endless problem with my "alphabet soup" daughter or find myself trapped in yet another frustrating hospitalization with my son, I cling to this hope with the fierceness of a rock climber fighting for life. On days where my depression decides to thrust itself upon me, that hope cannot be fulfilled soon enough.
I love the analogy of the farmer sowing seed and tending his crops in our second passage from the Book of James today. If you have ever planted a seed of any kind, even if it was just the bean-in-a-glass-jar-with-papertowel exercise in grade school, you know how gratifying and exciting it is to see that seed sprout. Even more delightful is when a full, healthy plant grows up. And having a bountiful harvest after that seed has been watered and tended to patiently over months is the most rewarding yet.
This very process -- and it is a gradual process -- is what we are being called to in perseverance when it seems the days ahead hold nothing special in store. Tending our hearts and minds just as the farmer tends his fields, faithfully, with joyful anticipation, is something we can and should embrace with zest.
PRAY: Father, when I find myself in dark, long, wearying days, remind me that I have the hope of heaven to look forward to. Holy Spirit let me never forget that even when it seems like I must march on in the mundane, I can live with eagerness as I remember that every minute You are conforming me more to the likeness of Jesus, getting me ready for a party that will rock all of eternity!
~ Barb Dittrich