This winter is dragging. Several snowstorms, cancelled plans due to weather, dreary days, ice crystalizing everything, and multiple power outages that leave houses 45* inside, have left me more than ready for the spring.
Winter is a symbol of despair that is not unknown to the pages of human history and literature. Camus talked of the “invisible summer” within that always warmed the depths of his soul in the midst of winter. In the Ice Queen’s Narnia, in which it was “always winter, never Christmas,” the despair of the boreal tundra is never relieved by the anticipatory hope of the annual coming of Father Christmas. In Stephen King’s The Shining, the snow which beards the windows of the Overlook hotel is a symbol of the claustrophobia that drives Jack Torrance insane. Similarly, for John Snow and the Night Watch, winter is always coming, a reality against which a small band of ragged soldiers, sworn by a sacred oath, stand in resistance.
Winter for many, including myself, is a season of the soul that is dark, fruitless. It’s a time of forced inactivity. Everything outside dies—the trees, the grass, the flowers—and everything inside feels dead. According to the writer of Ecclesiastes, “there is a season for everything.” But what is this one for? Just as we bundle ourselves up in heated homes, sipping on constant warm drinks (the best part of winter) to stave off the chill, we find our souls similarly affected by this season of darkness.
The winter of the soul often involves loss, depression, failure, loneliness, and darkness. There are times in life where it just doesn’t seem living anymore. There’s that deep sadness that moves beyond mere seasonal affective melancholy. We wonder: is there any life left underneath this frosty heart of mine? It is unlike the summer of the soul, times of joy and accomplishment, of life-giving friendship and monumental crossings of life’s thresholds. Nor is like the springs of the soul - newness everywhere, new relationships, new opportunities peaking up through the once-frozen ground, and the birdsong of excitement and promise surrounding us all around.
Thankfully, the Scriptures are not silent with regards to the winters of the soul that are bound to come. Here’s some penetrating insights from the Bible to thaw our souls:
“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth…[for] the years approach when you will say ‘I find no pleasure in them.’ (Ecclesiastes 12:1) The writer of Ecclesiastes, in an existentially honest treatise about the seasonal nature of life makes it clear that dark days are coming. In the meantime, we are to always remember that we have a Creator who in grace and mercy allowed us to come into existence, and to whom we will one day have to give account. When the days become pleasureless, when all the good books, movies, trips, coffee (!), and adventures have lost their appeal, we are to reflect on theological reality that God exists, and our mortality demands we live before that Audience of One.
“Your waves and breakers have washed over me … I cry to you for help … why do you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 88) In the winter of the soul, the Psalmist acknowledges a profound truth in the darkness. These waves that I’m being hit by in life are yours. Your waves! Our suffering and tragedy might just belong to the One who holds the universe in his hands, and there is something to learn, that perhaps the darkness is shaping us in ways only God can see. Christian author Mark Buchanan wrote of Psalm 88: “this Psalm allows us to break our silence about our agony when God refuses to break his.” We would do well to recover a faith, not just in the God who has specifically, brightly, decisively revealed his nature in the person of Jesus Christ, but also in the God who hides himself, the God of whom Job’s friend Zophar the Laamathite cried out “who can fathom the limits of the Almighty?” A God that we can figure out, who offers trite advice in the face of tragedy, is too small to be worshipped.
“they were kept from recognizing him…” These are the words that Luke, the Gospel writer, uses to tell of two travelers, downcast and depressed on the road to Emmaus after the crucifixion and death of Jesus, the one on whom they had previously placed their now-shattered hope. Their hopes defeated, their aspirations gone, their dreams of redemption curbed, and the immortal script simply tells us that “Jesus himself drew near.” I find it everlastingly satisfying that in all of our defeated hopes “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Sometimes it is when darkness is our closest friend and winter has its icy grip on our despairing hearts that we are kept from recognizing him. God refuses to allow us to feel his presence to teach us that relying on whether we feel it or not does not change the reality of his care, concern, and attention to the storms of our souls. It is often in those times, unannounced, disguised, and unexpected that the Lord himself draws near.
So if you’re tired of this long winter, keep praying, keep waiting. Learn to love the longing for the light that the darkness produces. Let the silence of God pull you into lament, for as Spurgeon said, the best kind of prayer can not be called anything else but a cry. Consider Jesus, who risen from death offers all a hope beyond hopes, that no matter how dark the night gets, in Him an everlasting morning is coming; no matter how frosty the winter of your soul deep down there remains, for all who trust in him, an invincible summer.