It’s midwinter in the north, trees are bare, sky is gray, earth is cold. Our fireside dreams, New Year’s resolutions and plans for productivity start to feel scattered, fuzzy, lost. Are we failing, inadequate for the task, or are we blindsided again by the season appointed to us year after year? Are we forgetting the pull of nature upon our minds and bodies that calls us to slow down, ground ourselves in stillness, and nurture an embrace of home and habitat? This is an invitation to step away from the frenzied pace we were never meant to have.
Along with our yearly reset comes a needed season of rest.
Winter is a season of temperate climates, and metaphorically can be a season of the soul in all our lives. What lessons we can learn from the inner work, hibernation and quiet preparation that takes place in the natural world allowing it to flourish in season!
Many are the demands that do not bend to meet us where we are: we must rise to meet them at the most inconvenient times. Jobs, family, parenting, bills, life and health changes and more. But there are many small things in our possession to control, to choose how we will meet them. These small choices have big impact, and help us travel through difficult seasons with grace.
A few years ago I recognized an annual struggle in wintertime to stay motivated, to power through the plans I had made in the warm glow of holiday momentum. I heard others talk about “winter blues” or seasonal depression, but I never understood it until my plate felt really full. Fulfilling the commitments and packed calendar that looked reasonable in December felt overwhelming in January and February. Once-manageable life challenges now felt paralyzing. Fatigue set in with a force, my brain felt fuzzy, and I felt like a failure. Was the problem me, or was the problem how I partnered with seasonal needs?
"Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home."
- Edith Sitwell
Make it a Lifestyle. I decided to try something new and embrace winter for what it is. It worked so well that the colder seasons have become a true delight for this summer-loving girl. Here's how it went: Instead of planning to steamroll through January, I anticipated the holiday fatigue that hits January 2nd and gave myself a break. Instead of packing my winter with social engagements and formal entertaining, I provided stretches of solitude periodically peaked with casual hosting and coffee dates. The stress of depending on good weather was replaced with a flexible schedule of no-pressure commitments and a stay-at-home backup. Embracing cozy, slow and quiet made home a haven to love instead of a prison to escape. Investing in truly warm clothing for a cold climate is a common-sense thing to do but a game-changer when you enjoy fashion. Dressing for the weather and getting outdoors for fresh air and sunshine, then coming home to hot tea made for a reassuring routine. Bringing live plants or fresh flowers indoors invigorated the senses. Reducing phone-scrolling and replacing it with a book, candle and hot drink was nurturing instead of mentally draining. S-l-o-w-i-n-g down everything, taking the pressure off performance and replacing it with an open opportunity to be present and explore what is already around us became such a life-giving practice for me and my whole family. We now thrive midwinter.
Mindful Motivation. What do you do when the days feel blurry and nothing seems to matter when you wake up in the morning? I’ve felt that. Giving way to the call for extra rest is not lazy, it is sometimes necessary. Learning to mindfully nourish the body and soul with good food, plenty of water, and life-giving interactions, books and media provides strength and inspiration for the tasks we must do, and rest and peace for the things that can wait.
Slow production. Accept that winter-productivity might look smaller than other seasons and embrace small but significant things. Keep a running to-do list, update it at your sharpest time of the day, but allow the list to be completed at a slower pace. When you can’t think of anything to do, check the list for inspiration.
Invest big in small ways. Slow down enough to be patient with the people around you, to be gentle, to appreciate the little things, to speak blessing and affirmation. Take time to discuss, ponder, wonder. Take time to look people in the eye. Put that phone down. Create margin in your schedule and prepare ahead of time. Refuse to rush, and watch the stress disappear (off your face and theirs). Take time to embrace, to listen, to pay attention. You don’t need to go anywhere or do anything more important than this. These seem so insignificant compared to our big ambitions and accomplishments, but trust me, they are far more important and impactful than you could imagine.
Be intentional with your friends. You don’t need to get together with everyone this winter, but occasionally send a text, make a phone call, mail a card, send a “thinking of you” gift to a long-distance friend. It goes a long way and doesn’t overtax your social capacity.
Prioritize your spending. Mindless consumerism can feel like therapy, but an empty bank account and cluttered house is depressing and counterproductive. Yes, get out, go shopping and support the local economy (it brightens small business owner’s days), but be intentional about it. Keep a budget and make a list of what you need and want for truly satisfying investments.
Explore your home. Most of us in American society have more at home than we use or need, yet, dissatisfied and restless, we keep going out to bring more stuff in, then rush back to work to pay the bills for things we do not use. This is madness.
Make home your adventure. Winter is a short-lived opportunity to enjoy the things you are moving too fast for the rest of the year. What’s in your pantry? Play “Chopped” and cook up a masterpiece with odds and ends you find. Pull out the games and puzzles in the back of your closet and play them for once. Burn the candles you already have. Shop your attic or basement, and rearrange the decor and furniture. Pull out the pencils and paints and dabble in some artwork. Learn a new craft. Make an old recipe you haven’t touched in years or a new one from a cookbook you forgot about. Set the table with china you rarely use. Look through photos and share stories of times past. Journal. Read books. Get rid of stuff you don’t want. Clean the house you have right now. Make what you have the best that it can be. Use your own imagination instead of scrolling for outside inspiration. You might be happier than ever.
"Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour."
Tune in with nature. Watch the birds, the trees, the sky. Find something amazing or interesting outside your window every day. Lift your gaze beyond yourself and learn from it. If you have no nature to view from your house, bring something living inside with you and watch it grow and change. Look for the beautiful every day, more often if possible.
Practice quiet service. While self-care and boundaries are necessary to help us thrive, a self-focused life only grows darker and more depleted. Activate regular service and generosity in small and consistent ways. Learn to understand and anticipate the needs of others and give without fuss or fanfare. Practice patience and consideration of others. Love and release. Learn the serenity of trusting God’s cycle of provision for you. Take joy in strengthening others knowing you will be strengthened too.
The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.
-Proverbs 11:25 NLT
Practice gratitude. Gratitude makes room for contentment, and contentment makes room for abundance. Being thankful doesn’t mean everything is exactly how it should be, but it recognizes even the smallest good and grows to change everything around it. It takes inventory of what is, and embraces the potential for excellence wherever it can be found.
Perhaps your home, finances, friends, or family are not what or where you want them to be. Perhaps the cold confines of winter have discouraged your dreams of change. I encourage you to take this quiet season to slow down and make faithful investments for inner growth, for unseen nourishment of the soul by the gentle process of surrender and trust in God for your heart and future (and take time to learn about God through scripture and partnering with Him through prayer), and by choosing life-giving actions every day.
In keeping with this call to embrace a season of stillness, I recommend this book by Linnea Bergstrom: “Come and Rest.” It is a succinct probe into the heart of slowing down and enjoying the process of life in the Lord through the lens of nature. Her writing style is refreshing and relatable and like talking with an honest friend who gets you.
If you want help to identify your season and make it purposeful, check out this blog post, “A Purposeful Season.”
Whether the harsh winds of life hit you midwinter, spring, summer or fall, may you find the wisdom to slow down and rest in the One who will sustain, nourish and cause you to flourish in due season.