By Janis Buelow
“The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”” – Mark 12:31
Winter is filled with a ton of different things, but also none at all. One of the constant phrases us midwesterners hear every single year is, “in winter, there’s nothing to do!”
When I was growing up in Indiana, I agreed. It felt like the summer fun of traveling, trying new things, and meeting up with family or old friends for concerts, food tasting, and loud, boisterous activities ranked so much higher than the dreary, dark, grey tones that living in Indiana during the winter felt like. In fact, even nature seemed to agree with me. You knew when the cold was going to hit. The leaves on the trees didn’t stay red, orange, and yellow. Instead, they’d turn into a murky brown and slowly fall off. Grass grew yellow as cold rain constantly poured over the sludge of the earth before freezing and being covered with ice or snow (or sometimes both). More police lights when driving felt more constant due to the amount of drivers who didn’t realize there was black ice on the roads.
To top it all off, when winter hits, we have this awful thing called a “time change” and suddenly, the world gets dark right when you get off of work.
In fact, seasonal depression is so common that college students are given full information sessions and activities to teach them about what it is. Room decor to combat the sad feeling was even recommended and emailed out to college students (mine sent one email a year to let us know how we can create “natural white light” in our dorms using thirty dollar Amazon lights as a substitute for daylight).
For the rest of the world, it feels like we’re in timeout. I see TikTok videos and articles on “things to do inside of the house when you’re bored.” A quick google search shows multiple articles with this issues at hand as well. I even saw a video of a woman who was using her indoor time to plan future things to do with her family in the summer.
But here’s where I think we forget God in the middle of this – we see the loss of summer as a bad thing. I would argue that we even feel “homesick.” We see winter as a time where we’re stuck inside with nothing to do, and we associate that “homesickness” with fall and winter smells. I even bought a candle from Appleton, WI called “homesick” that smelled like the holidays – brown sugar, apples, vanilla, and woodsy (very “fall” and “winter” catalogue smells). Here’s the kicker, though – winter is actually one of the few times during the year where we go from “having experiences” to “experiencing others.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “but I see my friends and family when we’re doing stuff that’s way more fun in the (wait for it) summer!” See, the funny thing is, though, is that in the summer, it’s the prime time for busy season. We had friends we made that were unavailable basically every weekend because they had trips upon trips planned with family – concerts, trips to the zoo, art shows, farmer’s markets, renaissance fairs, trips up north, etc. We had family who visited us once or twice, but in the summer there’s a plethora of long car rides and museum trips where you’re so overstimulated that you nap on the way back. Dinner is a secondary event and when we’re at dinner, we’re exhausted!
In the winter, the funny thing about pushed community events is that you’ll notice a trend of things turning from thing to do and into things to talk about. We went up to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving to visit my sister-in-law and her family as well as some of my other in-laws. Since there were no farmers markets, concerts, art shows, or big hit movies out, we spent a whole lot of time when we decided it was “too cold” to do some light shopping while simply engaging in conversation with one another. In fact, more than half of the holiday was spent enjoying the presence of others rather than going out and doing things. The community events we took part in and enjoyed centered around using low-cost activities, such as a simple football racing track that was free and a five minute light show at the local football stadium in Green Bay, to really get to know one another. I didn’t know my husband was still faster than my thirteen year old nephew! I also didn’t know that hot cocoa outside of an ice rink was cheaper than Starbucks!
It goes farther than family events, and that’s where we can really see God’s work during time timeout of winter. I didn’t know that bell ringing with the Salvation Army brought so many fun memories in the winter for so many families – especially for the kids. I didn’t know that the Christmas Toy Shop my church hosts has quite a few congregation members who use weekends in December to splurge on ordering toys for kids in need (just today when I’m writing this blog there were four people back-to-back to came in with toys). I didn’t know that there were a plethora of Christmas Christian concerts you could attend with friends from church or work you normally don’t see often and use the shorter car ride to talk about life. I didn’t know so many churches hosted things like Advent Tea and Christmas Aglow as a way to help women talk to each other for a good amount of time.
Trust me, winter activities are still “busy” activities, but the funny thing is, they’re all centered around connecting with others in a more personal way. It’s a true use of “building up the Body of Christ” and not just “go and experience faith with others.” They’re conversations that you might have with people you normally wouldn’t see for longer than five or ten minutes. They’re family experiences where instead of using a full weekend to prepare and hang out, you sit and have a meal together as a whole family. They’re having time in the weekend that you normally wouldn’t have to visit a new friend who moved to your state a few months ago and just visit with them for an entire weekend. They’re fellowship. They’re taking the next step in learning how to really “love thy neighbor.”
Dear God, help me to use winter to learn how to love as you love us, amen.