When I was a seminarian as a collegiate student, the older guys and our formators warned us about the ‘tunnel months’ whenever our second semester began. The tunnel months are January and February. Because of the end of the Christmas season, the cold weather, and seemingly little to look forward to other than our books and prayer routine, many seminarians found these months difficult. Even Valentine’s day, which was a joke for most of the guys in seminary, sometimes got under the skin of some lonely seminarians. 

Thus, we were warned, ‘You will have to push through the tunnel months.’ And we did the best we could, especially with the business and excitement of Lent, Easter, Spring, and the end of the school year as the light at the end of the tunnel. Yet, the tunnel months are not exclusive to seminarians or a time of year. Regardless of the weather, many of us go through rough patches where it seems there is no reprieve in sight. Tunnel months can plague the soul as well as the body, and we all experience them at some or multiple points in our lives. 

So what is the solution for the tunnel months? Embrace them. A fatal flaw of our current society is that we are always looking to the future. When Halloween is done, we are putting up Christmas decorations. When Christmas is done, we are looking forward to Spring and sunshine. When the dog days of summer hit, we are ready for chilled weather, comfy clothes, and the warm drinks that come with fall. Even on a micro scale, every Monday afternoon seems to be ready for the weekend to come as quickly as possible. In an American consumerist society, we often fail to dwell in the moment, but rather focus our attention on the next exciting thing. 

In the opposite but similar way, social media (particularly photos and videos) has taught us to have a greater emphasis on the past. We record nearly everything we do, because we want it to be shown and remembered. Then we spend much of our time looking at what other people have done in the past on their social media. We take way too many pictures, just to make sure we have the right one. All this time spent in vanity, for these same photos to get lost or have little meaning after a couple months. 

While neither looking at the past or envisioning the future are inherently bad things, we do have an unhealthy attachment to both as a society. Here lies the problem: We often do not embrace the moment that we are in. We are given the present to interact with the world around us, yet we often choose to try to escape that present moment by reliving a past moment or hoping for a better one in the future. Thus we can have a negative view of moments that are not exciting. To avoid this, we need to have a greater emphasis on staying in the moment that we have been given at nearly all times. Looking to the past and future are fine, but must be limited and must be at the service of the present moment rather than escaping it.  If we focus on staying in the moment, we have a better chance of making that moment better and worthwhile, rather than just skipping past it. 

Why does this matter? Because God is only encountered in the present. The past is there so we can learn about Him, the future is something we can shape and have hope in being with Him, but the present moment is where God invites us into communion with Him. The enemy knows that the easiest way to distract us from our Heavenly Father’s love is to get us out of the present moment, wishing for the past or the future. 

So the secret of getting through the tunnel months is simple, but a hard path. We must be able to sit in the darkness, the cold, and the uncomfortable because God can be found there. We must embrace the dreariness and suffering, because that is what Jesus did for us on the cross. We must sit and be attentive to God no matter how hard, because He is always attentive to us. And when we do these things, the tunnel months not only become bearable, but they become peaceful and hopeful. Peaceful, because being in communion with God is what we are made for. Hopeful, because with every purgative experience, heaven is waiting for us on the other side. But rather than grasping after heaven and escaping our purgative tunnel months, we should let God lead us through them.