“So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”2 Corinthians 4:18
I’m a proud Wisconsinite. Yes, I have lived in Pennsylvania for nine years, but when people ask me where I am from, without hesitation, I say, “Wisconsin!” My accent is still strong, using long a’s in words like bag and wagon. I love cheese and still cheer for Wisconsin sports teams. I proudly talk about my Wisconsin heritage and still listen to talk radio based out of Milwaukee. I miss the lake that looks like an ocean, Sheboygan hard rolls, good pizza, and my family and friends.
One thing I don’t miss about Wisconsin is the long winters. Winter in Wisconsin starts in October and lingers through the end of April, with an occasional snow flurry in May. Dirty snow banks line the sidewalks, obstructing views, and treacherous potholes cover the roads. And then there is the cold so bitter that runny noses freeze upon contact with the air, leaving slushy residue in your nose. If your eyes would happen to water while standing outside, your eyelashes would stick together with frozen ice crystals. Add to that the dark, cloudy skies and short days that left me sun-deprived and dreaming of eating citrus on a warm beach.
Like many people, I struggle when I’m in the doldrums of winter. I feel more lethargic and depressed, debating whether or not I should stay in pajamas all day. Moving to Pennsylvania, where winter is shorter has definitely helped, but I still struggled and often felt depressed in the middle of January.
That is until I had a change of perspective! That change occurred when I discovered the Danish concept of Hygge (pronounced HOO-gah). This little word has a big meaning and is hard to translate into English. It means coziness, comfort, togetherness, and warmth. It can be used as a noun, an adjective or a verb. Denmark is land where winter prevails even more than in Wisconsin, with colder temperatures and darker days. Yet, research has shown that the Danish people are some of the happiest people in the world! How does this paradox exist?
The Danes would explain this paradox by how they embrace the concept of Hygge in all areas of their life, from decorating their homes to preparing their food. They hoard piles of warm woolen throws, create ambience in their living spaces with candles and soft lights, eat steaming bowls of soup, and embrace the art of conversation with friends. They take walks in the cold, bundled up and grasping what little sunshine reaches their corner of the world, then come home to a cup of hot coffee or tea. They decorate their homes with plants and wooden accents, trying to bring as much of the natural world inside as possible. They don’t hibernate during winter, separating themselves from the outside world. Instead, they create opportunities for fellowship and camaraderie.
As soon as I heard about this concept, I created the usual Pinterest board and checked out a book about Hygge from the library. I started to look at ways I could create a warmer ambience in my home. I purchased plants, and made excuses to add to my fuzzy throw addiction. More importantly, I started to think of ways I could enjoy the winter. I made hearty stews and embraced the produce of the season in my desserts. I looked forward to snowbound days, breaking out puzzles or games, and sharing quotes and ideas from books we are reading. Homemade hot chocolate became a regular menu item, no longer limited to Christmas. I even decided to bundle up on cold, sunny days and take a short walk in my neighborhood. Soon, I started looking forward to winter: a chance to wear fuzzy slippers and burn candles. This perspective boosted my morale and has made January seem less oppressive.
It shouldn’t have surprised me that God would use a change of perspective to help me deal with another issue in my life: loneliness. For the last few years, I have struggled with feeling lonely. Not many people were aware of this struggle, in social settings I would wear a happy face and interact with others positively. Yet, I often would return home, feeling dejected and not connected to others. I felt myself turning inward, and for a strong extrovert, that is a scary place to be! It became apparent to me when I returned to Wisconsin for a visit, laughing and talking loudly with my life-long friends while desperately soaking up conversations to recharge my soul, that this feeling of loneliness was consuming me. I returned home in a deeper funk, wanting to escape my social circles and stay in pajamas. And then God changed my perspective.
Our Assistant Pastor preached a phenomenal message about the words Jesus used while he was on the cross. In Jesus’ greatest trial, He gave us an example by His words, of how to handle trials. I’m not even going to attempt to paraphrase his message, because I won’t do it justice. One thing that stood out to me was that Jesus, while in the throes of agony and slowly dying on the cross, was concerned about his family, asking John to take care of his mother. He chose to show kindness for others despite his circumstance. This message, along with studying God’s word, woke me up from my slumber of loneliness.
God started challenging me with thoughts, such as maybe God allowed me to be lonely so that I could be more sensitive to others. Just maybe, others in my social circle were also feeling the same way. And, just maybe, instead of wallowing in my feeling of rejection, I needed to reach out to others and be a voice of encouragement in their lives.
I started sending text messages to others, letting them know I was praying for them. I focused on being present in social settings, asking others how things were going in their lives, and truly listening instead of waiting for an opportunity to share my story. I started spending more time praying for people and asking God to bless them. I looked for opportunities to have fellowship in my home, inviting others into my circle. I also started a gratitude journal, focusing on the blessings I already have in the area of friendship.
My perspective didn’t change overnight, but slowly things became clearer. Soon, I felt God lifting my loneliness and turning it into joy. I was focusing less on myself and more on ministering to others. My external circumstances may not have changed, but God was doing a work inside me. I like the quote from Tim Keller, “I do not think more of myself or less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.” When I was wallowing in my loneliness, which was a legitimate feeling, I was more focused on myself, thinking of myself as being less in other people’s eyes. Yet this legitimate feeling, if not dealt with, can lead down a path of bitterness and constant frustration. This is not the place where God wants me to dwell. Paul says it best when he challenges the church in 2 Corinthians 4:18, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” In the scheme of my life, this season of loneliness is temporary. I am a blessed woman, with a rich group of supportive friends. Since I have a firm foundation, God used this temporary season to challenge me to think of myself less and of others more! I just needed a God-sent Hygge change of perspective to lift me out of my doldrums and focus on what is eternal!