February is one of those months that seems to linger on, despite the fact that it is inevitably the shortest month of the year. The festivities of Christmas are now in the recent past, and Lent is on the horizon. The days, though slowly becoming longer, seem to be filled with various shades of cloudy and dismal as perhaps even the impromptu snowstorm bursts upon us (at least in the northern regions). Unlike the welcome snowfall that heralded the season of winter, February snow is often an unwanted intruder. For those of us who just barely muddle through this last official month of winter, clever ideas for making the most of being cooped up are valuable and appreciated. Here are five suggestions I’ve used when I feel as if I am going completely mad from cabin fever (and my children and dog are, too).
Try a New Hobby
As a stay-at-home mom, I am constantly asked, “Don’t you get bored being home all day?” I’ve come to expect this inquisition at dinner parties and company picnics that I reluctantly attend for my husband’s sake, but I’ve also learned to respond off-the-cuff. The bottom line is that I’ve never really been bored a day in my life. Even the rare-but-treasured leisurely afternoons without kids are opportune for a siesta and maybe a nice dinner out with my husband.
One key to retaining one’s emotional and rational composure during days (or weeks or months) of being crammed in the same enclosed space due to frightful and dreadful weather conditions is to do something you enjoy. I suppose if you are the outdoorsy type, this could be difficult, but even the lover of nature can acquire enjoyment in something more solitary and sedentary. I use the winter months to catch up on the previous year’s photographs I’ve accumulated for the sole purpose of scrap booking them. Preserving memories revives a sense of nostalgia, as well as appreciation, for the life God has given me.
Try to find a creative way to spend your time. Creativity is one of those God-given gifts that each of us has to some degree or in some form. Tapping into it is a huge stress reliever and even awakens that part of us that has been dormant (along with the winter). Use this period of inactivity to resume a forsaken interest or perhaps pick up a new one.
Revisit the Works of Mercy
Everyone knows a person who is homebound or, at the very least, temporarily incapacitated. These are our elderly family members, neighbors, and fellow parishioners. They are friends who have recently undergone surgery or suffer from chronic illnesses. They’re even new moms and dads who are chronically sleep-deprived. Since this is the Year of Mercy, why not revisit that list you memorized when you were instructed in the Faith?
If you choose to visit someone who is convalescing, you are performing the corporal work of mercy, “Visit the sick.” If you opt to bring a meal to a family who has just welcomed a new baby into their lives, you are “feeding the hungry.” And if you send a letter or card (handwritten is best) to someone far away who has been on your mind, you are “comforting the afflicted.” Gestures like these are inestimable, but I know firsthand that, though seemingly unimportant, they are greatly impactful on the recipients.
Though you may be reticent to venture onto those potentially icy or snowy roads, consider those who will fall if they try to go out to the grocery store. Our immediate neighbors to the south are an elderly couple in their early eighties. Max and Jean don’t get out very much, especially since Jean (the wife) is increasingly frail. In fact, she broke her hip a couple of weeks ago and will be in long-term rehabilitation following her hip surgery. Catching Max shortly after the procedure, I offered him suggestions on how we could be of assistance to them. It occurred to me that there are many more infirm people out there who probably could use some help going shopping or being chauffeured to their doctor’s appointments. What an incredible act of mercy if we are able to do this, but there are countless ways God may be calling you to grow in charity this year.
Read an Inspirational Book
Some of us aren’t exactly bookworms, and I get that. For those of us who are, instead of light, fluffy reading (which isn’t necessarily bad), why not pick up a book that will enlighten and uplift your soul? Most of what I read is nonfiction, because like most people, I have so little down time. The books that help me move through the last of the winter months are the spiritual treatises written by saints, including devotionals or autobiographies. You could find anything that inspires you or that you feel the Holy Spirit is drawing towards you. Spiritual books are a fantastic way to cozy up by the fireplace or wood burning stove, cuddle with your pet, and enter into that sacred space where you invite God to reach your heart.
For those who aren’t into books, try finding inspirational audio books or talks on Lighthouse CDs. Watch EWTN (especially the Mass). Even your local Catholic radio station is a real pick-me-up to listen on your daily commute or when you want to unwind at the end of the day. My husband likes some quiet time after our girls go to bed every night to go into the garage, smoke his pipe, and listen to Catholic radio. He nearly always finds some insight that he shares with me, which often sparks a meaningful conversation between the two of us.
Declutter Your Home and Life
I’d be willing to bet that nearly everyone has that one room (or more) that we’ve been planning to organize and clean for months or longer. We put it off during springtime in favor of early gardening and taking crisp walks outdoors. When summer arrives, we’re busy with vacations, swimming lessons, fishing, camping, and everything that has nothing to do with being inside. Autumn is an equally busy season, with school and extracurricular activities for the kids resuming. Winter, however much we dread it, offers us the perfect opportunity to really make headway through the messes we’ve managed to accumulate throughout the year.
Consider the spiritual analogy of decluttering. When we begin to rid our homes of copious mounds of stuff, our minds are freer to think. Our souls are calmed. Somehow the visual distraction of excess translates into our interior lives. We tend to become attached to our things when they remain in our homes for long periods of time, as if they’ve somehow become extensions of ourselves. Purging and organizing is a way we can utilize these dreary winter months to pray for detachment and evangelical poverty. Every time I thoroughly clean a room, I am reminded of my need for very little. It’s as if God uses that act of sweeping and throwing away to demonstrate that my reliance upon Him is enough, and I truly can survive with much less than I imagined.
Don’t Try to Fill Every Empty Space
In this Information Age, we tend to erroneously conclude that every waking moment must be filled with busyness and activity. If we have any idle time at all, we become restless. Why is that? I’ve often pondered that question, and I believe the answer, though complicated, ultimately results in our inability to be still. We lack the discipline of solitude, which invites us to that sacrosanct space of tranquility. Solitude is that space where we encounter God, but where we also encounter ourselves. It’s my hunch that the latter reason is why we tend to avoid solitude or at the very least are uncomfortable with it. We may abhor winter, but it’s a necessary season of rest. God speaks to us in this season – to slow down, to rest in Him, to enjoy the quiet and calm both outside and within ourselves. Take advantage of the remaining weeks of winter to enter into that space in your heart where you’ll find God and yourself. You may have moments of contemplation, but you can also meditate on who you are, where you’re going in life, and what you need to change.
These are perfect ways to segue into Lent. Self-appraisal, through prayer, leads to authentic self-knowledge, which always leads back to a deeper love for God because of His mercy. Perhaps we can thank God for the month of February, including the icy blasts of air in the darkness as we warm up our vehicles to go to work or school. Just as we cannot skip the Passion of Christ in order to immediately celebrate the Resurrection, so we must be careful not to leap into spring before first encountering what winter has to teach us.