I have had several conversations lately with different folks about February. Our conversations have not been about Groundhog Day or Valentine’s Day. Neither have our conversations been about the fact that February is the shortest month of the year. Instead, our conversations have been about the challenges of February. We have talked about how February is the most difficult month in the academic rhythm, and how despite the fact that the days are getting longer, February days can seem like the longest days of the year — not because of actual length, but because of the ways that they drag.
In these conversations I have heard several theories about why February poses such challenges. Some have suggested that February is hard because classes get intense during this month, and there is no way to catch your breath. Others have pointed to the cold and flu season that really seems to settle in during this month. Still others have lamented that winter break is fading in the distance of the rearview mirror, while spring break seems far away on the opposite horizon. And, as might be expected, others have pointed to the weather — gray day after gray day.
These conversations have reminded me of the two times in my life that I have served as a pastor among Danish Lutheran communities. The Danes — even those here in the States — have a way of embracing the winter months, making the most out of the dark days of winter. Even though the skies in Denmark are cloudy about 65% of the time, Denmark is ranked the happiest place to live — year, after year, after year.
Many attribute this contentment to what the Danes call hygge. It is a mindset that embraces connection, coziness, and fellowship. It is realizing that the cold and the gray can be demoralizing and isolating and therefore being intentional about remaining optimistic and staying connected. It is a way of being that confronts the gray days of winter, rather than being confounded by them. It means taking a walk — even when the sun is hidden behind a low ceiling of clouds. It means limiting screen time and increasing face time (that is, real, face-to-face, meaningful engagement, not FaceTime on a screen). It means wrapping up in a warm blanket when doing everyday things — like studying or paying the bills. It means making more phone calls to loved ones than you otherwise might make, and it means figuring out ways to breathe deeply — whether singing in worship, adding an extra cardio routine, or seeking circumstances that will make you laugh.
As people of faith, we often draw on the words of Scripture to help us not only get through difficult times but to also make sense out of them. Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us that “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die….A time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
Perhaps, February is a time to remember — remember that God’s promise of light shining in the darkness, is not a promise only for December, remember that sorrow lasts for the night, but joy comes in the morning, remember that God is faithful and even when the days prove difficult — God will be ever present with comfort, strength and hope.
Perhaps February is also a time to be extra attentive to those for whom this month is particularly hard. Reach out and ask someone to go for a walk with you on a lunch break. Step away from the screens, and bring someone a cup of coffee or a cup of tea, and take about 20 minutes to just talk. Invite someone to go with you to Morning Prayer where you will be surrounded by a community for whom connection is a value. Punctuate the darkness of the night with some friends at Candlelight or Celebrate!, and pray the darkness away.
I have been surprised to hear from so many of late that February is hard. It is my prayer that as the days ever so slowly grow longer, each one of you will be strengthened by the promise that indeed, “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” This trip around the sun continues. Spring is coming. The greening of the earth is just around the corner. The flowers will bloom again. In the meantime, take a lesson from the Danes — and seek ways to be connection, coziness, and fellowship for one another.
Feb. 15, 2017
Rev. Charlene M. Rachuy Cox and Rev. James A. Wetzstein serve as university pastors at Valparaiso University’s Chapel of the Resurrection.