Are there certain seasons of the year that are harder for you than others, as you deal with physical limitations? For me, the hardest is spring. The battle against my flesh is most difficult as the weather warms up, because my friends are dusting off their walking shoes and getting ready to go out and enjoy the hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities they love. This time of year always makes me long for things to be how they used to be, when my body worked as it was made to, and I could join my friends and family in their warm-weather pursuits. My memories of trails and walking paths are bittersweet, and springtime intensifies the emotions around those memories.
I have friends who struggle “seasonally” too, who don’t have physical issues. One is a single mom, whose hardest season is Christmas time. As her friends make plans with their husbands and families, she is often left alone with her kiddos, struggling to make the holiday season meaningful for them, as she mourns the loss of her marriage and the breakup of her family. Being a single mom is hard all year round, as is pain and disability. But, regardless of your particular challenge, some seasons will always be harder than others.
It seems we all have a time of year that is especially difficult. Maybe the time around the anniversary of the death of a loved one is especially painful; or, if your disability is due to an accident, you may have more trouble fighting off ungodly emotions when that anniversary rolls around. Whatever the issue, the question for us should not be, “How will I deal with that dreadful time,” but “What is the biblical response to this pattern?” I believe the best way to ease the pain of these seasons of despair is to be prepared for the battle.
No army commander, knowing the date of an attack, would just sit back dreading it and hoping for the best—at least no successful one! The same holds true for us. If we know that a particularly difficult season is coming, we should prepare for it. The battlefield is inside our own hearts and heads, so that is where we should begin to prepare.
But how do we get ourselves ready for a successful defense against our own emotions? Well, we begin by training our thinking. As an example, I’ll share with you a scenario that has been typical for me in recent springs: As I begin to see my neighbors out walking with their children, I recall the many wonderful days I spent walking and exploring with my own children. There’s nothing wrong with thinking about happy memories. The problem comes with the shift from thoughts of happy memories to feelings of sadness and despair that I will probably never do those things again. Next comes regret, mixed with anger and bitterness at myself and all the medical people who betrayed my trust. Before I know it, I’ve drawn the curtains on a beautiful spring day and curled up on the couch in tears!
My dear friend, you and I must train our thinking to avoid this! One thing I have found to be true, both in myself and my counselees, is that when we have not trained our minds biblically, we go from a thinking orientation to a feelings orientation very quickly. Notice how easily I slipped from thoughts of happy times with my children to feelings of regret and sadness. Once feelings take over, reason fades quickly and we begin to believe lies. In the example above, as soon as I began to be led by my feelings, I told myself I will never do those things again. This is a lie. How can I know that I will never do those things again? How do I know that the Lord will not heal me, or give science a new innovation to help or even completely cure my physical issue? Even if that doesn’t happen here on earth, I know that I will walk, run, and do all sorts of things in heaven. So, my sad feelings led me to believe and claim something that simply is not true.
This feelings-oriented heart is very prone to sin. Anger, bitterness and despair are never far off when feelings take over. These sinful attitudes are a direct result of unbiblical thinking. So, what can you and I do to prepare for these difficult seasons of our lives? It is mid-February as I write this, and today is an unseasonably warm, sunny day. As I drove home from a painful therapy session, I passed a runner on the street who was happily jogging along to whatever music was in her earphones. She looked to be about my age, and I started to have those regretful, envious, sad thoughts with which I’m sure you are familiar. And I knew that now is the time to begin to prepare my heart for spring.
I must begin now to plan my thinking when these moments come up, so I won’t be caught off guard. What will I think about at times like this? Two things come to mind: Gratitude and love. When I am tempted to be sad or jealous this spring, I will thank the Lord for the many years of excellent health I enjoyed. I will thank Him for all the provisions He has made for me through these last four years of struggle. I will thank Him for the beauty of spring, for the warmer temperatures that thaw my painful joints, and for the New Life in my heart that is symbolized in the tulip buds and green grass. In love, I will pray for that runner. Maybe she doesn’t know the Lord. If that is the case, she is in much worse shape on her best day, than I am on my worst. I will reach out to someone who is suffering more than I. Perhaps I’ll go and take my wheelchair-bound friend to the park to watch the children play, and help her with her spring thinking. Whatever I choose to do, I know that gratitude and love can overcome sadness and despair any time of the year.
What is your “season of despair?” As it approaches, march your thoughts to biblical boot camp and retrain them! You will find that difficult time to be much more bearable, and maybe even enjoyable, when you are prepared for it. Spring will be here before I know it, but this year I am planning a great victory! The lilacs and roses won’t be the only sweet smells in my neighborhood! As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:14, "Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.”