In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
We’ve reached that time of year, haven’t we? The bleak midwinter. The song is commonly sung as a Christmas carol, but during December it feels like an awkward partner to the cheerful swells of “Joy to the World” and “Angels from the Realms of Glory.” But now, with tinsel, parties, and the newness of snow a couple of months in our rearview mirror, midwinter’s bleak iron-hardness seems quite fitting.
As I look out my window today, it seems that life has paused for the season. The snow-sprinkled jungle gym is empty of children and swings; the bird feeder stands tall, but untouched. Even the cold, steel train tracks are vacant today. Yet, I remain thankful. This year, winter has come to my home. Last year, winter came to my heart.
Exactly what caused my season of darkness I don’t know. It’s happened before, so perhaps I’m simply prone to dreariness now and then. Was it the move away from family and friends? The demands of managing my family of eight while homeschooling my special-needs child? Was it financial strain, loneliness, or just plain fatigue?
I couldn’t put my finger on the reason, but I was Angry, Sleepy, Grumpy, Whiny, and a host of other unpleasant “dwarves.” One day, while in the process of dragging myself through my household chores, it occurred to me that I was finding very little joy, even in my husband and my family—the people most precious to me in this world. And then I knew: my heart had lost its song.
There’s a Song in Your Heart
“There is a song that Jesus gave me . . .” says that old-time hymn. It sounds pretty campy, but it’s true! God’s people have always been people of song. This was illustrated in Exodus 15:1–2 when upon the defeat of the Egyptian army, “Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying, ‘I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation’” (ESV).
Psalm 33:3 says, “Sing a new song to him,” and in Colossians 3:16, we are told to “let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” These are commands—in other words, not optional!
I recall a sermon by my former pastor along these lines in which he stated something like this: “If your heart doesn’t have a song, you really need to look at what’s going on. Something isn’t right.” Last winter, the silence in my heart betrayed the smile on my face, and I knew that what he said was true.
The Sound of Silence
Dear sister in Christ, is something silencing your song in this, the bleak midwinter? Perhaps it’s the pain of a marriage on the brink, despair over a prodigal child, or a frightening diagnosis. Maybe you have kids, and you’re just “done” with everything. Are you in the midst of a seemingly endless trial? If you feel buried by snow on snow, look to the Scriptures, and find hope for the bitter silence of your heart:
But wait, those songs in the Bible were sung during times of joy and victory, not in the midst of darkness and depression, right?!?
Take, for example:
- Paul and Silas—who, from their prison cell, painfully bound by chains and stocks, “About midnight . . . were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25, emphasis mine).
- Jesus—who, knowing full well He was about to face abandonment, denial, suffering, physical death, and separation from His Father, led by example: “After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matt. 26:30, emphasis mine).
If Jesus can face the penalty cup of wrath with a song in His heart, there must be hope for us to sing through our suffering as we are being conformed into His image (Rom. 8:29). But how?
Midwinter Remedies for a Cold, Iron Heart
Suggestions for singing through suffering can be found in the remaining lyrics of our title song, “In the Bleak Midwinter”:
Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
The Lesson: Remember, our earthly trials are temporary. Remember, He is coming again!
Enough for Him, Whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
The Lesson: Jesus was content with His present and future circumstances at every point of His life. He trusted in His Father’s plan, and so can we.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshiped the beloved with a kiss.
The Lesson: Regardless of the immensity of our trials, we must keep a pinpoint focus. Mary worshiped her newborn King. We would be wise to do the same.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
The Lesson: Just do something. Now.
This is perhaps the most important, yet the most difficult, homework in the School of Darkness and Depression. The narrator of the song was overcome with his insignificance. He felt he had nothing to give, nothing to do. He was at the end of himself. If you’re at the end of yourself today, if you feel you have no joy, no song, nothing to give, here are some practical things you can do right now. This is not me preaching to you from a high tower, but in the words of a song written by a dear family friend of mine, “It’s one beggarman to another beggarman saying I know where there’s Bread.”
Five Things to Do. Now.
1. Get thee to your Bible, and read it.
It’s as simple as that. The Word of God has been the absolute best, no, the only salve when my heart has been in despair. There is no magical, mystical formula of passages to read for a cure. Gospel hope is found on every page. If you don’t know where to start, try Psalm 34: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit” (v. 18).
2. Put a song and the Word within range of your ears.
I have found good Christian music, sermon recordings, and podcasts like Revive Our Hearts to be invaluable during my seasons of “songlessness.” These are tools I use in times of darkness to keep my thought life in check. It is very difficult to be hearingtruth and thinking lies at the same time.
3. Do something for someone else.
The world tells us that we cannot give to others if we do not care for ourselves first, but this is not true. Provided that we are leaning heavily on the Lord for strength, it is perfectly possible for us to give to others even while our physical/emotional maladies continue to plague us. Jesus modeled this for us consistently in the Scriptures. Often I have found that serving others takes my focus off myself and proves to be medicinal for all parties involved.
4. Reach out. Ask for help.
This is something you can do right now. Pick up the phone. Send an email or a text. It could be to a friend, to your husband, to a mentor, but let someone know that you are in a dark place. Ask them to pray for you and to hold you accountable for your thoughts. Together, run your thinking about your situation through the sieve of Scripture and figure out what meets the criteria of truth. Do not try to go through this alone.
5. Sing when you don't feel it.
Sing a song to your Lord. Force it if you have to. Again, the cosmos would have us consider our feelings and then act. But the Word tells us that our hearts are deceitful; our feelings cannot be trusted. Now is the time to sing like you mean it, even if you don't feel it right now.
Ambushing Satan (and Sin) with Song
The song in your heart is a powerful weapon. Here's what John Piper said in a message titled “Ambushing Satan with Song”:
I promise you [singing] will bring a new power to your fight of faith. Satan cannot bear the singing of the saints. You can drive him away with song. And don’t fall for his lie that you can’t sing. Everybody can sing. Not everybody can perform. Not everybody can lead. Not everybody can read music or even stay on the right keys. But everybody can sing to God.
Dear sister, do not be content to live life without your song for another moment. What action will you take right now to move toward regaining your joy? How can we help you?