As winter arrives, I want to delight in flickering candles, fuzzy socks, and good books. But my biology doesn’t seem to agree with the season, no matter how much I try to convince my mind of its charms. I spend these dark months fighting to stay alert longer than the sun’s low pass across the sky and wishing to be free of all the stifling, extra layers. Humans aren’t created to hibernate, but at the same time, it’s hard for some of us not to.
Sometimes my faith behaves the same way.
I don’t always notice autumn creeping into my religious life at first, a cooling of my heart toward my neighbor or an increasingly drowsy approach to spiritual practices. Other times, a blizzard barrels in with such a disorienting crisis, my faith gets buried before I can find my bearings. In times like these, I know better than to think my faith is gone. But it isn’t safely preserved, either, like something I’ve stuffed in the freezer. It’s more like the hibernating polar bear growing more emaciated as it sleeps beneath tundra snow. Without sustenance, it will die.
After a few spiritually dormant seasons, I’ve learned to identify choices I can make to melt the ice encasing my faith.
1. Remember. I may not be feeling much, but I can still decide how to use my mind. I ponder the gifts that belief has given me in the past, including a calmer way of seeing the world and less frenetic striving for meaningless things. What was I doing differently then than I’m doing now? How were my prayers more heartfelt? Why did I stop? Sometimes the truth is simple—I’m lazy. Other times the answer is more difficult: I’m angry.
2. Surrender. I believe God is good, so sometimes I pretend to be okay with His will—choosing aloofness over authenticity whenever life disappoints. I’ve had to learn that God is strong enough to handle my real feelings, even when they’re hurt, but I’m not strong enough to bury resentment. When I try, it doesn’t disappear. It grows cold and crusty around my heart. I have to acknowledge the baggage I don’t want to keep before I can surrender it.
3. Get a physical. Medical issues can cause the most vibrant faith to feel frozen. If I see no obvious changes in my life but feel blah toward God, I have to consider if I need a checkup. For years, I thought I was becoming weary in my faith when really my body was telling me it was allergic to everything I was eating. Since faith is lived in a physical body, it makes sense to nurture my health to keep faith alive.
4. Be mindful. When I sense my faith going cold, I try to notice the words I hear, think, and say. Too often I’ve become a passive absorber and repeater of noise. I can be a proactive sifter instead, noticing each word’s effects on me—which ones are enlivening and which ones benumb my believing heart.
5. Be still and trust. Writing from the perspective of a fictional adversary bent on faith’s destruction, Christian author C. S. Lewis penned: “Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do [God’s] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”[i] Choosing faith, even when it’s frozen, is powerful. I know that as long as I’m listening for God’s voice, He’ll speak in His time. He understands better than I do that patience is a part of thawing faith too.
As much as it’s hard for me to admit, I know winter has a purpose. Through these cold months, I’ll pray, seek, and wait. If I’m still not feeling the warmth, I’ll light a few candles, cozy up with the best books and most truthful voices, and trust that spring will come.
[i] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 40.
Kim Webb Reid is a fiction writer, personal essayist, and former magazine editor. She especially enjoys writing for young readers and visiting the kids’ section of the library with her daughter.