In light of our recent weather patterns and school closings (and another one only hours away!), the term CABIN FEVER seems quite timely. My guess is that it’s one of those phrases used by teenagers AND senior adults and everyone in between, though its roots have been outdated for quite some time. [Side note: before you go Google Image Searching this phrase, be warned that this is also the name of a recent horror movie series, which I now have even less interest in ever watching.]
Cabin fever is what we get when we are cooped up too long in the same place, with the same people. A list of symptoms include irritability, restlessness, extreme boredom, prolonged exhaustion, and lack of any motivation whatsoever. You’ve seen this happen in the beach house, in the really long car ride, and most recently, in your own snow-covered homes. Cabin fever causes problems for all of us, as it threatens to chase off any spark of creativity or sense of gratitude. But here’s the thing: cabin fever is an even bigger threat to the Way of following Jesus.
Cabin fever faith can happen just like this:
1. You are a passionate follower of Jesus.
2. You are lovingly surrounded by many people who support, and encourage you.
3. Your thoughts and their thoughts start to align.
4. Your Christianity becomes very comfortable, even effortless. And so, naturally, you get more comfortable, and put in less effort.
5. You further insulate yourself with only those who really agree with you and with whom you have most things in common.
6. You start to resent new people who come in to the group. You’d rather things stay the way they are.
7. You are increasingly complacent and unsatisfied with what you “get out” of your faith. So you focus even more on yourself and less on others.
8. You go to worship and fellowships and projects, but your primary purposes are social. You don’t have time to go beyond the minimum responsibilities.
9. You realize you are no longer praying for anyone other than yourself, and even that’s rare.
10. You make faith a totally internalized, privatized, and relativized thing, just one small part of your public identity.
We’re not spending too much time in cabins off in the woods; we’re spending too much time in the cabins of our own self-construction. Our own phones, our own social games and social media profiles, our own busy schedules, our own rooms, our own earbuds, our own preferences for every single thing in life. We have so many other things competing for our time and attention, and they are all capable of serving us in some way, so why not think the same way about our faith?
Imagine a big snow coming (or just look out your window tomorrow morning). You see a neighbor struggling to shovel her driveway. You have a small instinct that perhaps you should go offer to help. But then you think better of it, knowing you’ve got your own things to worry about and accomplish for the day. And yet, you feel a little less content with your own self in that decision, and become a little less motivated and energized.
A few centuries, English poet John Donne penned the words, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man [and woman] is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” (For Whom the Bell Tolls, 1623). Picking up on this notion and applying it to the deeper calling of Christ, 20th century Trappist monk Thomas Merton writes,
“It is therefore of supreme importance that we consent to live not for ourselves but for others. When we do this we will be able first of all to face and accept our own limitations. As long as we secretly adore ourselves, our own deficiencies will remain to torture us with an apparent defilement. But if we live for others, we will gradually discover that no one expects us to be ‘as gods.’ We will see that we are human, like everyone else, that we all have weaknesses and deficiencies, and that these limitations of ours play a most important part in all our lives. It is because of them that we need others and others need us. We are not all weak in the same spots, and so we supplement and complete one another, each one making up in himself for the lack in another.” (No Man Is An Island, 1955)
Perhaps these next few days, you’ll find a new way to avoid cabin fever, and my guess is that it will be found in the decision to venture out. Out of your own doors, perhaps, as you go build a snowman or help shovel the neighbor’s drive. But also out of your own insulated, close-knit group of friends, as you find the courage to go up and talk to someone you usually ignore. Venture out of your own all-too-familiar and routine parts of following Jesus, perhaps by picking up a new practice, like a real Quiet Time in the morning, or reading through one of the entire gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John), or praying for someone else every night before you go to sleep.
Don’t keep your faith locked behind the doors of your own constructed cabin for fear of bitterly cold and uncomfortable surroundings. Open wide your doors of security and selfishness and allow Christ-like love and service to rush in. It’s the perfect cure to cabin fever.
Along the Journey…