Blog, Living in the Abundance of Christ

Winter of the Soul

It was my first winter in Ohio, 17 years ago, and I hated it. Coming from “The Evergreen State” of Washington, the frigid temperatures, grey gloom, dead trees and foliage, and lingering snow (that had long passed being pretty), overwhelmed me. I talked to my mom on one particularly difficult day, separated by thousands of miles, longing for home and something familiar, and told her “I am surrounded by death”. I think I remember a chuckle on the other end of the phone. My mom knows my occasional flare for drama (one that I rarely admit to). But as I looked around that’s all I saw; death, cold, and desolation.

Even though that’s what I saw, spring was right around the corner. That winter felt still and lifeless, but underground things were moving and changing. While the trees and bushes lay dormant, they were getting ready for a new bloom. The seasons are about change. Letting go and looking forward to something new.

We have these seasons in our lives too. For the Christian, growth, change, and (sometimes) pruning are also known as sanctification. Just because we (or others) don’t see outward evidence of change doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t change happening under the surface. There are times when things are winding down, we’re making transitions, and changing a direction we thought we were headed. Then the winter comes, and it seems like there is no motion. There is stillness here, maybe boredom or restlessness, as we wonder what the future holds. We want to jump into something new or start moving, but the time is not right, and we have no idea what direction we’re going. We feel stuck, and like we’ve made no progress. We may feel things will remain this way forever.

…The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.’

And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” 1 Peter 1:24-25

I have been in such a time. Seemingly unable to move forward, and feeling stuck in the same hard, uncomfortable place. My devotions and prayer time have seemed flat as I’ve dealt with disappointment after disappointment. I have continued in perseverance, but often without a lot of joy or hope. I have felt stuck in particular habits and ways of thinking, and earnestly prayed to break free from these things. It seems like for every step forward, I would take two back. It has felt like winter in my soul. Cold, bleak, and, at times, desolate.

One of the habits and ways of thinking I tend to fall into, is the desire for stability from things around me. Stability with jobs, and finances. Stability from particular relationships. Stability with my own emotions and feelings. What I’m really longing for in all of this is sameness. All these things remaining the same and predictable. Situations that I can make a plan for, have control over, and know what to expect from. I want all the seasons to be the same, a happy time of predictability, and my emotions to be on an even keel. I want other people to be the same too. I want to know what to expect from them, so I can plan accordingly.

But that’s not how life works. It does not remain the same; it’s not predictable. There are different seasons of life. Some we like and others we don’t. In any season, even winter, there is always growth for the Christian. Jesus continues the process of sanctification, a good work in us, and will continue this work until the day he returns (Philippians 1:6). He does this work, even when it feels like we’re not changing, and like it’s winter in our soul.

I recently had an epiphany, while putting on make-up, considering all these things. I say epiphany, but I’m sure I’ve known this before and discovered it anew, because I forgot. And that is: Christ is my stability. He never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). No matter what my current season of life is, he remains the same. I can count on him for my stability. I don’t need to have everything around me stable, because I have Christ. And eventually, if we are in Christ, we start to see signs of life, and our hope is, again, stirred.

…but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

The other day, while riding in the car with my husband, spread out before us were the monotone trees, sprinkled with evergreens, grey bushes and withered grass.  All the trees had lost their leaves (as they tend to do every winter), and the countryside contrasted against the cold, blue sky. I mentioned how pretty the scenery looked. Instead of seeing a bleak and desolate landscape, I saw something different. The landscape from all those years ago had not changed, but I had. My perspective of these things had changed. Instead of death, I saw temporary change and knew it meant that soon there would be new leaves and flowers. I started to welcome the winter time and knew that it was a time of quiet, stillness, and rest, and would quickly be followed by spring activity. Shoots bursting forth, birds building nests, bugs flitting around (eww).

The winter gave me a greater appreciation for the other seasons and all the activity those seasons entailed. And finally, over time, I came to appreciate the winter as a time of reflection, slowing down, and being still. When I looked around I was no longer surrounded by desolation, but by a season, just as important as any other.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

 

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