I have heard from more than one friend this week, of their feelings of frustration, of heaviness, and how at night they are anxious and fearful. Indeed, this winter has been an especially hard one in terms of rain, snow and cold. Many folks seem to lose their way at this time of year, with routines falling off, with feelings of being overwhelmed sure to follow. The time of year and the uncertainties of the times can make us feel as if we are enduring one long, never-ending night.
Are we doomed, because it is winter, to becoming depressed, stir-crazy and paralyzed with fear? I do think the cold, combined with distressing news at home and abroad, certainly conspire with the darkness of the season to try and unnerve us. The lack of sunlight and the necessity of staying in more really do have an effect to be sure. And the reality outside our doors is that people are suffering, there is great anger and unrest in some parts of the world, and that our beloved country is in a state of confusion as to what course we should be taking.
The news reports are of absolutely no help, because they seem to contradict each other. One day all the signs are in place of an improving economy, a trend toward lower unemployment, the stock market is up, and the very next day, we are hearing the opposite being said. This on the same network, out of the same mouths! It is almost getting to where by the end of the newscast they have contradicted what they said at the beginning!
About the only thing they consistently say is that more cold, snow, and flooding is on the way! And we do know, because we see it with our own eyes, that the price of gas and now food continues to rise, sometimes daily. For most of us, the income does not rise, though, and instead is shrinking in the face of these increasing prices.
Loneliness can creep in at this time of year especially, and be an unwelcome companion. I have a dear friend and neighbor whose children are grown and gone and whose husband's job keeps him gone for two weeks at a time. This year, she is feeling so alone. And doesn't Satan just love to figure out ways to make things worse. One day last week, when her husband was home, a strange man came to their door, basically begging. He said he would sweep their porch for them if they would give him money. This kind of thing has never occurred here in the time since we all have lived here since the late 90's. The husband said no, that he could clean his own porch. I do not know if the man knocked on any more doors, but we live across the street and down two houses and I know that he didn't come to our door. We all like to be generous and do charitable works, but I find it kind of unnerving that someone would go into a residential neighborhood and knock on people's doors. I wondered if things are getting this bad that perhaps this type of thing will begin to occur with more frequency.
When I told my husband about it, he said the man might have been checking to see if anyone was home or if there was a woman there alone. Our town has consistently had the distinction of being one of the safest places in the country for years, but in this month of January there have been more robberies committed than in all of last year.
A couple of nights ago, this same friend, alone in the house except for her, thankfully, huge dog, was awakened at 12:30 a.m. by someone ringing the doorbell. She sat up in bed, wondering if perhaps she had been dreaming, but then the dog started barking loudly and throwing himself against the front door, for surely there was someone on the other side. The lady tried to peer out one of the front windows, but she couldn't see anyone. Needless to say, she is not sleeping well at all now.
I am putting all the bad news up front in this post, because I think we owe it to ourselves and to God to be honest about what is going on. Things are not the greatest, and people are worried. If nothing else, we should be praying about the situations that we are facing individually and collectively. But just like David, who would start one of his psalms by lamenting this or that, typically ended them by acknowledging God and His great love and provision for us.
The best way to think about all these problems is to see them not as problems but projects! To reiterate, we may be individually powerless to affect the big things in the world like the wars and the fact that the middle east seems to be blowing up right now, but at least we can pray! Prayer changes things, always, every time. So let us not grow weary, but pray for the people and the leaders.
This is always the first, middle and last thing we should also do for our own personal situations. And then we might just want to approach some of these things as challenges. For instance, the rising prices should be a challenge for us to meet head on. You know, by sitting down and thinking things out, you can stretch every dollar a lot further. If you know you have to drive to a doctor's appointment, sit down and figure out ahead of time what other errands you can do on your way to and from the doctor's. Now I know I am a bit out there, but if I really want to get a good physical workout and burn some calories, I will sweep the floor meticulously and then get down on my hands and knees and scrub it. Or wash the woodwork, the windows and the baseboards. I didn't have to buy or rent a workout video, I didn't have to drive to the gym, much less pay for the membership, and I got some really good work done, too!
Sometimes I just play these little games with myself, like wondering how it would be if I were a Colonial era housewife, how would I be living? As I turn the heat down low and bustle around the house cleaning and cooking and baking, I just think about them doing their homekeeping without electricity, or food security, or running water. But our ancestors came here and took the hardships they faced as challenges. They made the best of things with whatever they could find, make or grow, and put their backs into their work. We have them to look to for inspiration, because look what they accomplished!
My lonely friend is very thankful for her big, somewhat scary(!) dog. He protected her that night by his barking and throwing his body against the door. She also has an alarm system, and I know she is thankful for that, too. So we may not have perfection happening at any given time, but we always have something to appreciate, and some kind of help or comfort, even if its just words on a page. God speaks to us in His word and through His Holy Spirit, so we are never alone or completely bereft.
I think these are the very times in which we need to reach out to each other. I know we can overdo being on the Internet and the Facebook and all, but I also think these enrich our lives by helping us to connect with loved ones and friends, new and old. One of my dear friends, Beth, has had a giant collage (which continues to grow) of photos of her friends and family, and she keeps it hanging up in her house. She calls it her "Prayer Wall". Every day she prays for everyone on that wall. She lives back in my hometown so I don't see her very often, but we "see" each other on Facebook almost daily. I saw where she posted a picture of herself in front of the prayer wall, and it made me remember (because I had forgotten) that she prays for me every day, since my picture is on that "wall". What a tremendous blessing! I feel like I would like to do the same thing. What if we all did something similar? How powerful would that be?
Yes it is winter. And typically cold and bleak. So let's fill our home lives with color and cheer. I learned back in school that the clothing of people in northern climates was always very bright and colorful, as were their furnishings. I like to pull out the old afghans and throws to brighten the rooms and provide something to snuggle in. I also keep my little electric candles in my front windows all year long and put them on around suppertime until its time to go to bed. I also have a "dusk to dawn" candle that is in the Palladian window in the upstairs hallway. It goes on when it gets dark and off when it gets light. It serves as a nightlight and also, I hope, to cheer those who pass by.
This time of year is also a great time to invite someone over for tea and cookies or for a meal. Showing hospitality to someone blesses both parties, and it is a very holy thing to do. God likes it; it says so in His word. If you are not used to doing this, it might seem scary at first. But just try it; and start with someone you feel very comfortable with. Do not worry about having your house perfect. Just make some nice coffee or tea, and serve it on a cleared-off table in sparkling clean cups with a cookie - store bought is fine. The main thing is to show someone else that they are worth spending time with.
There are, I am sure, endless little home projects we can undertake during this time of year when we are housebound so much of the time. And this is the perfect time to establish, or re-establish good, healthy sleep routines. In other words, go to bed early! Turn off the TV and computer, and get in bed with a good book. I might think I am not sleepy, but just let me get in bed and start reading, and in no time, my chin is on my chest!
So let's just be encouraged by all our blessings, and all of our opportunities to make ourselves stronger and more self-sufficient, and more of a blessing to others! It is true that, "...night cometh, when no man can work," but as long as we have breath, it is day, our day, to do the works He has given us to do.