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January has trudged slowly onward, and now we tip toward the bleak mid-winter.

Go ahead. Let yourself groan about it if you must.

Very few people seem to adore February. Though it is our shortest month, it tends to sit like a heavy lump, blocking our view of the bright horizon. Here in Michigan, February offers a great deal too much gray, and is accompanied by a dull, quiet gloom that lurks around corners and at the end of our beds. February enfolds us in a big blah-colored blanket where curl up and wait for March.

Seasons can be rough on us, and while “the bleak mid-winter” isn’t technically a season, I’ve heard enough people bemoaning its approach lately, that I’ve come to see it as such. From my experience, the bleak mid-winter is awfully dreary and painfully quiet.

Perhaps you have experienced a season in your own life in which you existed within the bleak mid-winter. And I mean to say that it might have happened during the actual winter or it might have taken place during the spring, or summer, or fall. Has this ever been your experience? Have you gone through a long line of dull, aching, whimpering days? Has the gray and silence descended on your life? Seasons can be painful, lonely, long-suffering places. I genuinely hope that you have not looked your own bleak mid-winter in the eye, but in case you have, or currently are, peering into a hushed, monochrome horizon, I want to share something with you that I heard from a friend.

Along with 230 other people, my friend and I were both in attendance at the Reformed Church in America’s recent Mission 2020 Conference in sunny Orlando, Florida. (That sun was a true and generous gift in and of itself, I must confess.) My friend, significantly younger than I, is making her way through med-school with a blossoming missional heart and mind.

At breakfast one morning, someone was pressuring her somewhat about what she would contribute to a particular conversation. Whether or not she was ready to add her voice to that specific debate, I was struck by her response, kindly but seriously stated, “Hey, hey…I am here with two ears open.”

It was so simple. She felt no pressure, and no need to thrust her voice into the conversation. That was not why she was in attendance. My sweet and wise friend was in the crowd to listen, to receive, and no doubt, if the moment was right, to respond. But first and foremost, she was listening.

It struck me that the very best thing we can do in our bleak mid-winter season is be prepared to listen. If you are hunkering down by the fire with a cup of tea and some biscuits, fighting off the literal cold and the steel gray afternoons, I would remind you that the time there is not wasted. If you are trundling around with a snow shovel, damp gloves, and a weather weary spirit, again, February is not a waste. If you are walking through the dismal and depressing days of an emotionally bleak mid-winter, this time is not a waste.

My gentle encouragement to you is that, in this quiet space, you would prepare yourself to listen. What if the quietest, dreariest, loneliest times of our lives are still important times? What if these gray days help us to hear better? What if we do just one thing during the worst days of our lives, and that is to show up with two ears open? Is it possible that paying attention, listening in every possible way for God’s voice, is the only, best thing that we could do?

I am the first to admit that on the hardest days, I want only to lie down — preferably under the softest blanket — and not make an effort of any kind at all. But I have found that even having a terrifically horrible day takes an effort. In my life, that might mean putting on a righteous sulk-face, and that takes energy. Keeping it there takes stamina. Holding all of my exhaustion requires a lot of strength; it is a heavy pile to exist under. Sitting in my bleak, gray season takes it all out of me. What if, instead, I made listening my one task?

Sure, clearing out my stopped up ears takes effort because, like many others, I make a strong effort to keep myself safe and comfortable in my winter den. Allowing for two ears open in my life probably means pushing away some clutter, and breaking down a few of the walls that I have constructed around my heart. It will mean working to free my mind of the heavy, sullen gray blanket that has held me hostage.

What about you? Are you willing to make the move and open your two ears? During the bleak mid-winters of our lives, it can, at last, become quiet enough that when we open our two ears, we can hear God speaking to us, calling to us, comforting us, instructing us, filling our life with a living word.

Open your two ears, my friend. The season is just right.

Katy Sundararajan

Katy Sundararajan lives in Holland, Michigan with her husband and two children, but she has left her heart in a whole host of places called home. She values thoughtful writing that allows us to ponder something small and recognize in it, something big

3 Comments

  • Fred Mueller says:

    Very nicely written. But my perspective is different. By February first the days are gaining three minutes of daylight each day. The temperature has begun its slow climb. Here in Jersey the bulbs in front of the church slate porch have sprung. To me this is not midwinter but its death rattle.
    Now I know it is different in Michigan, but reading your piece I recalled my four winters there at Hope. Great memories like chains of people holding onto a car bumper to glide down streets with packed snow. The year the snow fall was so great that the town used Hope’s campus to dump dump trucks full and it lasted till May and we used dining hall trays to slide. My stupid roommate who never bothered to bring a winter coat in September and shivered through the whole winter. Giant ice flows on Lake Michigan which we (foolishly) walked on way out over the lake. In March swimming the warm power plant outflow north of Holland. Entire weeks when day after day without ceasing powdery snow fell in the dim light of winter. I loved it.
    So cheer up, Katy. Spring is coming. God promised Noah it would.

  • What a wonderful message. It is one that we all need to hear. Too often we speak but never give the gift of listening. This is a very timely reminder. Thank you for this.

  • Karl VanDyke says:

    Unfortunately, this essay misses the very real SAD which is brain chemistry out of balance. One withdraws into one’s private hell without relief. Drugs help some but I find the winter gloom to be a terrible time. Only warm sun works on that malady. I wish it was a quiet time of reflection, but it is not.

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