What Can Winter Teach Us About Rest?
Tips for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual rest.
The holidays are over, and the last weeks of winter stretches out before us in grey and uneventful fashion. February often feels like the longest month, doesn’t it? The sunlight is distant and limited. Signs of life lie dormant. Yet a vital, unseen requirement of new life is occurring throughout creation:
Throughout winter, the barren trees crack in the cold winds. Branches cease from producing buds; roots lie dormant storing up the strength necessary to reach for spring rains. The tree knows that fruitfulness will come again in season, and this is the appropriate time to cease from work.
Not long ago, and for thousands of years, humankind lived completely inside the rhythms dictated by nature. Sunrise, sunset, climate, weather, and necessity kept us all closely tied to the annual rhythm of seasons. Predominantly agrarian cultures were well-acquainted with the manual labors of spring sowing, summer tending, and fall harvest. Then in winter, there was rest.
As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.
–God’s promise to Noah (Genesis 8)
With the advances of electricity and industry, most of us have much looser ties to this annual rhythm. The result is not only a life out of touch with the land we were created to take care of, but also an obligation to be fruitful twelve months out of the year.
Just as we need weekly rhythms of work, rest, and play, so too our health benefits from yearly rhythms. Understandably, each vocation comes with its own annual ups and downs which may or may not align with winter. If and when your schedule allows, the following is meant to help you identify where you need rest the most, and how to begin making more room for it.
Consider four parts of your being: body, mind, soul, and spirit. Then you might engage a few intentional practices of rest according to your personal needs, or use the practices suggested.
Consider: How is your body?
What kind of rejuvenation does your body need? How might you nurture it, go easier on it, or seek new avenues to health? Perhaps it’s scheduling an appointment you’ve been avoiding, changing old habits, or taking a break from your regular exercise routine, or renewing regular exercise?
Practice: Try going to bed earlier in winter. It’s simple, but how many times do we resist it? Yield to the body’s natural circadian rhythms and grab an extra hour of sleep, if at all possible.*
*Note to parents of little ones: hang in there; this too shall pass.
Consider: How is your mind?
What kind of rest does your mind need? Moments of reduced input? A little less screen time? New ways to cope with anxious thoughts? Better nutrition? What can you purposefully give your mind to help it be renewed?
Practice: For a few minutes each day, intentionally give your mind a break from the regular demands of life. Let your mind wander, wonder, imagine, let go a little. For example, get lost in a song, go for a walk outside, or do something creative.
Consider: How is your soul?
What kind of rejuvenation is your soul longing for? Are you emotionally weary? Do you know why? Do you need help getting to the bottom of the why? Or do you need to take a little break from the inner work you’ve been doing for so long? That worry you carry – could it wait until spring? Is there a part of your soul that’s been hibernating? Is this the spring to waken it?
Practice: Set aside time daily or weekly to separate yourself from all the responsibilities, noise, activity, and feelings. Expect nothing from yourself but to just sit there and be. Sit still in silence and give your heart permission to exhale. Give your soul a Sabbath.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
–Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30)
Consider: How is your spirit?
Here in the deepest part of your being, beneath actions, thoughts, and feelings, lie the deepest pain alongside the deepest love. And it is also here that deep rest can be experienced. Jesus longs for us to find this place, and He can teach us how to live from it. God can handle your pain, worries, and hard questions. He can even hold them for a while so you can rest.
Spiritual rest comes as we receive God’s love for us, because there is no fear in love.
When we know we’re loved, we can stop trying so hard.
Practice: As you lie in bed trying to fall asleep, tune into the deeper part of your heart, your spirit, where God loves to make Himself at home. Turn your attention to the love of God. Let His love wash over you, fill you, cover you. Rest in the truth that God’s love for you is endless, and there is nothing you could do to earn more of it or less of it. In the love of God, you have nothing to prove, nothing to earn, nothing to beat, nothing to show, and no reason to rush, because God is not in a hurry. Even when God’s care and love for you doesn’t look true or feel true, your spirit can receive it. God loves you. Be at rest.
This is the kind of rest we can carry with us through every season, and many winters.
Return to your rest, O my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.
As these last few weeks of winter linger, be open to receive the gifts she has to give, and look for God’s best for you through the natural seasons.
Let winter teach you how to rest, knowing full well that spring is coming.
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