The long dark season of everything stripped to nothing began so sudden, overnight, with the gust of one phone call, then never left. The only miracle here is waiting to see how much night can a day hold and still be called day.-Mark Buchanan
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent 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 TNIV)
A confession: most of my life I’ve ignored this, that all is seasonal. Maybe I’ve not even believed it. For everything there is a season. For everything? In the natural world, that’s obvious: the earth moves in seasonal rhythm:
Nothing could be more self-evident.
But Ecclesiastes talks about another kind of seasonality, seasons that define not earth’s rhythms, its tilting to and away from the sun, but life’s seasons, its inevitable tilting toward the light and away from it.
Existence is seasonal.
Our hearts know this. Our hearts taste the rapture and leisure of summer, the industry and urgency of fall, the bleakness and loneliness of winter, the busyness and expectancy of spring.
Maybe that, too, is obvious. Only, until lately I had no corresponding spirituality for it. I had ways of adapting my yard and home and habits to the variations of climate and daylight that prevail with each season.: I cut my lawn in the summer, clean my chimney in the fall, stack my wood in spring, wear my boots in winter. But I had no equivalent ways of adapting my spiritual life–my prayer and worship, my listening and my speaking, my being with God, with others, with self– to the seasonal shifts inside me. Especially, I didn’t know what to do with winter. Winter is bleak, and cold, and dark, and fruitless. It is a time of forced inactivity, unwelcome brooding, more night than day. Most things are dead, or appear so. It never seems to end.
I wanted to run from winter with all my might. To disavow its reality. To conduct myself in blatent defiance or outright denial of its existence. I wanted to frolic like it was high summer despite the engulfing darkness and shivering cold inside me.
When my father died in June 1996, I hardly paused. I came back from his funeral and preached at my church what I was scheduled to preach. The elders offered me a time of bereavement. I declined it. I didn’t alter one thing in my spiritual regimen. I carried on as though a minor interuption, not one of life’s hardest and loneliest passages, had just visited me.
In 2001, when three young men in the church died within three months of one another, I did the same. I just carried on. But several months later, I sat in a cabin on the beach and thought I was losing my mind and my faith both, and wasn’t sure I wanted to chase either.
That was the start of slow awareness.
It’s foolish to plant corn in January. It’s foolish to transplant shrubs in July. Each season has its suitable tasks., its required duties, its necessary constraints.
Concerning earth’s cycles, I get that. But it’s taken me almost fifty years to grasp this same truth to my own heart. The death of my friend and colleague Carolmade it a matter of reckoning. That event, and events surrounding it, plunged me into winter deep and long, and I couldn’t flee it any longer. There was nothing else but to enter it, and dwell in it, and learn from it.
And maybe, just maybe, to grow from it.
But I still don’t want to talk about it.
Too raw. Too fresh. Too recent.
Yet in all my conversations with people about these things, it’s winter that most intrigues them, and I hazard a guess that it’s because it’s little understood and often hidden away. Winter shames those in it. It feels like personal failure, something we’ve caused, or missed, or faltered in. We chide ourselves from being there. We’re sure it’s our fault. We wonder if we’re crazy, lazy, stupid.
And most people around us don’t help. They pep-talk us. They serve up warmed-over platitudes. They scold us or offer useless advice. They hold up as examples of how to beat the winter blahs. “I know exactly how you feel. I felt that way last month for two or three days. I just cut back my coffee consumption, got an extra hour’s sleep each night, got on the treadmill, and I popped right out of it!”
So we tend to close up in our winter houses and smile a lot to divert attention. We nurse our sadness in aloneness, which is kind of how we want it anyhow. It suits the season.
The assumption many of us labor beneath is this: God can’t be in winter. God has abandoned me, or I have wandered from Him, but this bleakness– the fruitlessness — can’t be blessed by Him. If I loved God, if God loved me, I wouldn’t be here.
It’s an assumption I no longer believe.
~ Darren’s Comments ~
Depending on where you live, you might not feel so conscious the truest effects of winter; however, I live in the northeast up near Canada where the beginning of winter comes in fast and hard. The long, hard, and personal alonesomeness of physical winter can be draining since in winter you experience all kinds of depressing situations. Like you feel abandoned once winter finally has its lock on you. For example, the sun is almost down at 4:30 p.m. which spells doom and gloom for those suffering from seasonal affective disorder. This proves to be the one season that now I look on with hesitancy: I had to get my snowblower serviced in late fall for the coming winter snow which can fall significantly from now till the end of March; I take on the duty of snow removal with the snowblower and depending upon which types of snow fall and its rapidity of the snow storm I usually have to fit it in between work; I am going tomorrow to put my winter tires on because I usually schedule my change over in the middle of November; and for fun in this depressing season, my family is limited to the factors that don’t include skiing or snowboarding because none of my immediate family does both. We have to find our enjoyment elsewhere.
As with the last line of of Mark Buchanan’s Spiritual Rhythm talking about an assumption I believe no longer, listen to the beginning of my major testimony, a true story that happened in my life: Spiritual Rhythm likens each season of the year to each season of your physical life. Jesus Christ’s life did also. Many Christians come up with the excuse that underneath it all, He was divine leaving us mortals are trying to find our way into this physical life. Paul said when writing to the Philipians that Christ Jesus emptied Himself of all that He was heavenly endowed (Philipians 2:7). Now, just think about that. The reason He wouldn’t save Himself from the cross was because in order to fulfill His Father’s command (remember when He prayed so earnestly that He was pouring down as sweat in the form of blood just before His deathly trial [Luke 22:39-53], the Father denied His request on behalf for all of humanity). Christ Jesus “emptied Himself” from all the power that was afforded to Him in heaven. He is omnipresent (everywhere), omniscient (all knowing), and omnipotent (all powerful), but He chose to empty Himself completely, so He had NO advantage even though He was God. So Christ Jesus had seasons of His soul too.
Again, that Holy advice coming from Mark Buchanan (just like Ezekiel continually warned the Israelites-The Book of Ezekiel) would have helped me shortly after my eighteenth birthday. See, I graduated from Calvary Christian School on June 3rd, 1989; a week later, I turned eighteen (June 10th); and meanwhile I was preparing to start my training to be a youth pastor (for it would be near the end of August that I was scheduled to be a freshman at Southeastern College of the Assembly of God, Lakeland, Florida). All was looking well for me: I had a new pre-owned 1985 grey and black Dodge Charger Turbo I bought with my new car loan, I was graduated 7th in my class, I was on the National Honor Society, I was set where I thought God wanted to take me (to be a youth pastor), I visited that college on winter break that I later went to, I had been well spoken of by the top brass of the Northern New England Assembly of God, I participated in several youth preaching competitions in which I won one of them in summer camp in 1986, etc. I just wanted to see how God was going to use me next as the miracles that took place in the book The Cross and the Switchblade. All was set, except the dream I had that I couldn’t wake up out of, for another miracle of God would happen slowly.
Speaking from my own perspective the most frightening dream that one could have had is fortelling the future. That occurred to me the night of May 19th. God informed me through a dream just five weeks before it was to happen something catastrophic would happen to me since in my dream I was paralyzed to a hospital bed unable to move. I was all alone, seemingly no one to help me. In fact the morning of June 28, 1989 was a morning that changed my life in all sorts of ways. I mark it like this: twenty-five days after I graduated, eighteen days after my 18th birthday, I was in the most severely horrific car accident, a sort of late birthday present that would affect me for the rest of my life and a l birthday present that I can’t return. So as the morning mist was rising on June 28th, 1989 (the hottest day that year), it was about 6 in the morning going up the highway on my way home.
As I said it was early morning when the sun is just about risen for the day, when I was headed home in my 1985 Dodge Charger on the interstate highway. Lining on each side of the highway traffic were beautiful, majestic, granite ledges as apparently I was so tired that I fell asleep and hit one of those granite ledges. The ambulance came, as well as the police and the fire personnel came to the site, all were astonished that I lived. My mother received the bad news as the chief of police in the town we lived in was coming up the driveway. Instead of the usual expectation of her son, my mother received the bad news of her son’s accident. Yet I don’t remember anything at all what happened when I sped off the highway into one of those ledges sending me into an instantaneous coma, for I hear the grim reaper knocking on my door to let him in and death would overtake me.
However, God in His ultimate purpose (Roman’s 8:28) wouldn’t allow Satan to take my life (Job 2:6) as one of the cars followed close behind me as he noticed the erratic driving of a particular 1985 Dodge Charger. That driver that followed close behind me, it turns out, was a medical doctor. My new preowned sports car held up well given the conditions: travelling about 70 mph on the highway. I apparently fell asleep after being up over 24 hours, and was the subject of over correction due to me being so tired. I apparently veered to one side of the highway, and I tried to correct my swerving car and the over correction made me crash into a granite ledge rock (one of the hardest stones out there).
Fortunately or unfortunately, due to memory loss of the horrific car accident and the incidents surrounding it, I was forced to rely on credible sources (my mother who practiced being in the Intensive Care Unit in the hospital for 15 years, and the doctors who were in charge of my case). Memory loss is normal for everyone, but you tend to remember the days leading up to a major incident; however, that is not the case for me. Unlike a major incident like the person that is subject to the abuse may lock it away in the files of their head, I’ve begged and pleaded with God to reveal to me those things that happened. Yet God has not chosen to reveal those days to me, and I have to trust it is for my own protection. There are days missing from June 18th to the 28th like a little puppy dog gone missing. Stay tuned in to see the next issue of Spiritual Rhythm: Winter as I tell you of my experiences during my hospitalization in Darren’s Comments.
Darren L. Beattie, The Soul Blogger