I went to college at the very top of a mountain. The views from there were majestic; from the main building, you could watch the sunrise on one side and the sunset from the other. The college’s nickname is, appropriately, “The Castle in the Clouds.” That’s because come winter, the clouds roll in and blanket the campus. Sometimes, the fog is so thick, you can’t see but a few feet in front of you. I remember walking from building to building by sheer memory alone. And, I’m embarrassed to admit, I once missed my turn during an exceptionally foggy night and drove my car down an embankment instead.
After months of living in the dense fog, it began to take its toll. We’d all long for spring and the return of sunshine. For some of us, our mood reflected the gray surrounding us. The lack of sunlight made life itself feel dim and dark. The psalmist’s description of life at the bottom of a pit was apropos, “You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep” (Ps. 88:6).
Indeed, you don’t realize how much you need the light until you don’t have it.
A Physical Need for Light
This experience of feeling down during the winter months has a name: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This disorder describes symptoms brought on by lack of sunlight, usually occurring during the winter months in places that receive less sunlight. People affected by SAD experience loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, feelings of depression and hopelessness, and difficulty concentrating, among other symptoms. It’s considered a seasonal disorder because once spring arrives—and with it more sunlight—the symptoms begin to abate. Though we don’t know the exact reason why people experience seasonal depression, the theory is that shorter days in winter and less sunlight might trigger a chemical change in the brain leading to depressive symptoms. There is also research which suggests that the brain makes more melatonin when it’s dark. Common treatment for SAD includes light therapy, Vitamin D therapy, talk therapy, and medication.
Such a condition reminds us that we’re not merely spiritual beings; we’re also physical beings. God created us as embodied souls and each part affects the other—physical conditions can impact us spiritually and vice versa. Consider the ways in which a stressful job affects a person’s physical self as they experience an increase in blood pressure, headaches, or difficulty sleeping. Depressive symptoms can occur with other health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and thyroid conditions. Likewise, a person experiencing clinical depression will not only experience emotional disturbances; they will also experience physical symptoms. Our body and soul are united and each impacts the other in often complicated and even mysterious ways. In the case of SAD, treatment includes the physical—light therapy and medication—but also includes counseling to help a person address their thinking patterns.
Our bodies are created with a physical need for light, but we need spiritual light as well.
A Need for the Light of Christ
We know we need the sun’s light to see by. We know our bodies need it to regulate our sleep and wake cycles, our mood, and to absorb Vitamin D through our skin. We know that the plants we eat need sunlight to grow and thrive. Yet this isn’t our only need; we were also created with a need for spiritual light.
The Bible equates this light with truth, the word of God, life, and with Jesus Christ himself. In fact, Jesus came to bring light to the world: “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Matt. 4:16). The Bible often contrasts light with darkness, sin, and the evil one. Those who do not know Christ love the darkness (John 3:19). They shy away from the light, and even resist it, for it exposes their sin.
But Jesus shows us that light brings life. Just as physical light brings life to all living things, so too does the light of Christ bring life to the dead spaces of our lives. “I am the light of the world,” he says, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). It’s by the light of Christ that we see everything else. As his light shines in the darkness, we see the true state of our hearts and our need for a Savior. By his light, we see truth contrasted with falsehood, righteousness with unrighteousness. His word highlights our way in a dark world (Ps. 119:105). In his light, we grow and thrive and mature in our faith. And ultimately, his light radiates from us as we go forward, lighting the way for others to know the Lord (Matt. 5:16).
As we enter the darkest days of winter and find ourselves missing the light of the sun, may it remind us that God created us with a need for light—both physical and spiritual. We are embodied souls that need light to thrive—whether the bright glow of light therapy to treat SAD or the very word of God to lead us in the way of eternal life. Let us walk in the light of life today