This past week I was incredibly productive. I wrote a paper, got my tax stuff organized, worked on (and finished!) grades, cleaned my house, hung out with friends, took care of the last of Mt. Recycling that was in the closet, and did all the normal stuff of the week — teaching, community group, cooking, errands. I feel rested and energized and am looking forward to a whole week of vacation in which to do things and see people and finish projects.
But a few weeks ago, my mood was very different. I could feel myself getting better as the days grew longer, but I was still struggling with what’s probably the number one symptom of my seasonal depression: a knotty anxiety about getting anything accomplished. Even simple tasks like grading student essays look Herculean, and anything larger or more stressful I find absolutely paralyzing. I can even objectively recognize the simplicity of a task, and the necessity of doing it, but then my brain just shuts down when it comes to taking the first step. Churchill’s “black dog” was still sitting ominously in the corner.
And when all this is going on, I am a very, very bad friend. I can handle getting together with friends to chat about trivialities; I can talk theology all day long because I enjoy it. I can certainly recognize my own sin (usually in an unhealthy way), but dealing with it productively in community becomes, again, an almost-insurmountable task. But when friends are suffering and struggling — and there’s been plenty of that this winter — I retreat in fear.
Whether I’m avoiding grading papers or paralyzed with anxiety about speaking into a friend’s pain, the next thing that happens is a wave of guilt and condemnation. You should be able to do this. You’re being irresponsible. You’re a terrible person, and you’re going to end up jobless, homeless, friendless and alone if you don’t stop it. Do something! And the Black Dog rears his ugly head and says, You can’t. It’s too hard. Why bother?
And then, of course, the cycle starts again, because fear and shame are not good motivators.
But this last week has reminded me again of God’s grace in the midst of this struggle. I don’t know if my mood issues will ever go away or even improve. I don’t know if there will ever be a January and February where dread and guilt aren’t undercurrents. But I do know that in the Gospel I have hope — the kind of hope that doesn’t disappoint.
The same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is at work in me, and promises that, as surely as the spring returns every year, the final renewal approaches that will never again cycle back into the bleak darkness of sin and death and despair. A day is coming when there will be no need of a sun to shine because the Lamb will radiate His own glory in the midst of the New Jerusalem.
So, friends, thanks for bearing with me through the difficult months of winter.