Several years ago, I moved to St. Louis for a three-year grad program. Having lived my whole life in the great state of Texas, I had been exposed to only two types of weather up to that point: warm and blazingly hot. In St. Louis, I gained my first experience with that mythical season that I had read about in books and seen in movies – winter. At first, my emergence out of my weather comfort zone was full of fun and novelty. I enjoyed watching the leaves turn orange and red and yellow and shopping for scarves. Then slowly I realized that I had to be very careful with my wardrobe choices before a long hike or jog because otherwise my fingers and ears would ache and throb until they eventually went numb. That was just before I recognized the shortcomings of my “warm” winter coat, which had always been more than cozy in Texas but was now sadly insufficient since it covered no part of my legs. And all of these realizations came before the first snow fall, at which point my eyes were opened to my need for good boots with traction, an ice scraper, WARM hats and gloves (cuteness in my wardrobe choices was being swiftly replaced by functionality) and lots of patience for being stuck inside. By mid-January, the novelty of winter was long gone.
I’m not going to lie, that first winter was hard. I tried to make the best of it but the gray days, the leafless trees, and the COLD began to get under my skin and grate on me. And, what was worse, I was powerless to change the weather. The truth of the matter (my academic brain told me) is that the earth is tilted on its axis and when it is tilted away from the sun, it is going to be cold. I found myself in an uncomfortable state that I was totally powerless to change.
And then late March came. And I saw this:
I actually posted this picture on Facebook with the caption “Praise God, it’s Spring!” I remember the feeling that I had seeing the trees and flowers in all their springtime glory that year. It was a beauty and a brightness almost too lavish to be believed. Not only is spring in St. Louis a bit more, shall we say, “showy” than Texas spring, it is also appearing to people beaten down by the long winter they have just endured. The stark contrast between the seasons dazzled my unaccustomed eyes. Not only did I see nature returning to life all around me, I felt my own spirit revive with it. And, perhaps even more powerfully, I discovered through multiple years in St. Louis that this phenomenon happens EVERY YEAR. Because, as I gloomily surmised during that first winter, the earth is tilted on its axis and therefore a season of cold is inevitably followed by a thaw. Without fail. I could not, try though I might, shorten the winter months. But powers greater than me, which proved to be consistent and reliable, brought spring each year without my help.
There is a point to this. We’ve probably all heard someone say that life is made up of seasons. This word carries implications that I, the native Texan, really never considered before my time in St. Louis.
- Seasons are not short. They require patience and endurance if we are to make it through to the next.
- Seasons are not under our control. Sometimes we can take practical steps to make them more bearable (think hats, gloves, pot roast), but we cannot wish or work them away.
- Seasons are not permanent. Summer turns to fall turns to winter turns to spring. We may love some of them and hate some of them but we are not stuck in any of them.
- Seasons teach us… about ourselves and about God.
On the Christian calendar, we are currently in the middle of the season of Lent. Lent, historically, has been observed as a period of focus on God through fasting – not necessarily fasting from food but fasting (or refraining) from something that we would normally lean on for comfort or pleasure. In seasonal terms, Lent is winter. Lent is a desert. We may, in our best moments, be able to pick out a stark beauty during this season. But certainly we will also have our moments when we really just wish we could make it end a bit faster. The idea is to feel some amount of discomfort for a season – not because there is virtue in discomfort itself but because such is life. And there is certainly potential virtue in our reactions to our discomfort. But there is another point to Lent that I find much more important. It culminates in the celebration of Easter – the day that Jesus rose from the dead after being put to death. The day he redeemed us and made us new. Easter is springtime. And after a long winter, such a springtime should dazzle us to the core. In whatever season you find yourself now, may this reality bring you courage – the turning of the seasons may be out of our control but it is coming nevertheless. Spring is on its way and even the harshest winter cannot impede its approach.