Overcoming the Dark Days of January
I call them the “Dark Days of January.” They hit me a little differently each year; the reasons differ and my reaction to them differ. But, nonetheless, if I am not careful and intentional I am struck down by them.
Part of it is the let down of Advent and Christmas seasons. So much time and effort, coupled with the great anticipation of the arrival of the Christ-child, leads to a great climax that instead of propelling me into the new year makes me feel as though a great wind has left my sail.
Part of it is the grind of the school year. January seems smack dab in the middle; the hard work of the fall, with its kick-off to a new school year, retreats, and programming that can seem refreshing, makes way for what seems to be the mundane and the unexciting. Ministry seems to feel more like work to me in January, and less like the fulfillment of a calling.
Fall has the feeling of newness and possibilities; Advent has the excitement and anticipation of Christmas; but January just feels like a whole lot of work!
In the church where I serve it isn’t like everything stops in January. There is the kick-off to Confirmation, planning for a huge spring break mission trip, and the chance to look ahead and lay groundwork for a summer that will appear all too quickly. Still, the dark days of January seem to, if I am not careful, bring me down.
After many years of ministry I have discovered that they dark days of January come no matter what; this I cannot change. But what I can control is the way I react to this time and how I can implement some specific things that help carry me through to the light that is very definitely at the end of the tunnel. Here are a few things I do:
- Don’t feel like I have to rush into the new year.
It is totally okay to take a little pause at the beginning of the new year. I used to think that my Christmas vacation, with its celebrations, travel, and family time, would rejuvenate me. Instead what I have discovered is that if I am not careful I can enter January tired, cynical, and worn out. What makes January different from a fall kick-off is that most things don’t really feel new; they feel like the resumption of programming that took a pause of Advent and Christmas. So I don’t have that “newness” to get me fired up and to carry me forward. I have found that getting back into the routine slowly helps not only my energy level, but my attitude.
- I don’t do resolutions!
If you make resolutions and are able to keep them, you should be awarded some sort of Nobel Prize! For me, resolutions are simply opportunities to be magnify my inadequacies and to feel let down when I break them. Instead of resolutions, I make sure to take a little time to reflect on the past fall and compare that with my original goals for the school-year. In making some necessary tweaks I am allowed the opportunity to recalibrate without feeling like I have failed.
- I don’t make many commitments.
The world is quick to tell us, “New year, new you.” This implies that we need to make new commitments and to toss out old ones. In ministry we all know the demands placed upon us are great and that any commitments we make are on top of the ones we already have. While there can be energy to a new calendar year, I make sure to tread lightly in make commitments that simply pile on top of the ones I already have.
- Tend to your soul!
We all know Jesus to be the light of our world. In my mind that light is more fire than light bulb, and if I don’t tend to it eventually it will burn out. Being intentional is so important to our Walk with Christ, and when we get tired, pulled in many directions, or distracted by the needs of others it is easy to forget our own fire. In the dark times, which for me tend to occur in January, I know I have to focus on my soul tending. And when I do so, I notice the dark days are more easily overcome.