Winter in the Soul
by J. Grant Swank, Jr.
It is not always springtime in the heart, though at times we are led to believe this. Of course, we would longingly hope that spring could be a daily reality, but an honest look at human existence tells us otherwise: Seasons of winter exist in the soul. Since all things work for good for those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, these winter times are woven into the fabric of God’s plan.
I once rode a train from Boston to Atlanta and pondered the winter scenery through my window. I related those frosty landscapes to what I had learned about the winters in my own soul.
First, winters in the soul are revealing. I saw backyards littered with tubs, crates, boxes piled high, trikes on end, abandoned cars, clotheslines, forsaken swimming pools, lonely lawn chairs, and barrels of one thing or another. What would be normally covered by the greenery of spring and summer was now laid bare. From that train I saw practically all of it.
So it is with the soul in winter seasons. Those times reveal our littered backyards, broken-down fences, abandoned projects, wasted promises. During the springs and summers in the spirit, we can cover up fairly easily with flowers. But when we take stock in winter, it all shows.
Winters in the soul are also revolting. As the train sped me to an annual convention, I thought, Why don’t they plan their yearly get-together in Georgia in the spring so a train ride would be more pleasant? The view was ugly. The trees stood unashamedly naked. The rivers coughed up their broken ice slabs. The banks of streams spilled forth the debris of a careless recreational public. The cities struck me as forgotten gardens left to their weeds, cold monuments, and potholed alleys.
The winters in the soul can be revolting as well, for what they turn up is not always what we think is there. In the springs and summers of the spirit, it is easier to tolerate hypocrisy. Not so when the branches are bare. Consequently, we must be honest enough with the truth to confront the ugliness and see that it is cleaned up with the help of God.
More positively, winters in the soul can be reflecting. Gazing out the train window, I was fascinated with the stillness of the world — even in the cities. The parks were quiet. The Philadelphia Zoo was deserted. The country lanes sported a lone dog or bundled traveler. A forced serenity impressed everything.
During those winter days in the soul, we find long hours for thinking things through, facing up to facts, and relating with truth. The giddy hours of “spiritual summers” give way to deepening contemplation.
Interestingly, winters in the soul are also resistant. One thing that especially gripped me while looking out the train window was the stubborn hardness of the earth in winter. I would not have wanted to plow one of those fields in February! Once again I marveled that those stubborn acres would soon be filled with blossoming hay, flowers, weeds, and trees. Could it be? Would that crust actually surrender its abstinence?
The winters in the soul also are hard times; otherwise they would not be winters. They can be difficult going — days of testing, hours upon hours of trial. The sickness seems to be progressing, the disease spreading. The finances are becoming more complex. The situation at work is worsening. Face up to it: You are in the wintertime of the heart.
Thankfully, winters in the soul are revolving; they are temporary. We are grateful to God for the four seasons of the year. We need the change, the rhythm. Someone in Atlanta said with pride, “I wish you cold see this city in May!”
I agreed, and so imagined what those avenues, parks, residential sections, and historical sites would look like in the spring. One thing for certain: God would indeed perform His majestic revolving of the seasons from winter to spring.
So it is with the winters in the soul. God will see to it that winter passes — even the final winter of death. Here is the last word of God: springtime! We must continue to believe that the revolving is true. But in the meantime, winter teaches valuable lessons, each with its purpose. Those who are wise discover it. The rewards are worth the exploration.