"Consider the growth of a plant. A plant's birth begins with its burial. The gardener commits a generally unremarkable seed into the silence of the soil, where it sits in stillness and lightlessness, hidden by the smothering dirt. Just when it appears as though death is imminent, its seeming decay reveals new life.
Hidden years are the surprising birthplace of true spiritual greatness."
-Alicia Britt Chloe, Anonymous
I say I'm not one for seasons. Coming from Chicago, I don't think I'd care if I never saw snow again (which is not at all a reality for me here in Colorado). I love sunshine, I love flowers; I like to be in physical environments where things are blooming and growing and coming into being, where there is movement and energy, abundance and life.
And yet physical environments- and life- are not always this way. Life, like nature, works in a rhythm of seasons: impermanent- yet necessary and inevitable- periods of growth and decay, birth and death, plenty and want, sickness and health.
The sun doesn't always shine (but it is always there), and snow won't always fall (but its time will always come again). The trees won't always have their leaves (but they will at the proper time); a seed in the soil won't remain a seed (but in its due time will become a plant).
I'm not one for seasons, maybe, but I do appreciate what they teach and reveal about the patterns of life.
The quote above is from a book I'm currently reading about this very thing, about how- like the seed, like the sun- there will be seasons in our own life where it will seem our work is in vain, our efforts are unnoticed, our purpose is not revealed, our contentment, even, is withheld from us.
And this is difficult.
It is difficult to exist in the space where 'nothing is happening,' or life didn't go 'as planned,' or we're in debatable transition about 'what's next' or even 'what's now.' It is difficult not to 'give up' here. It is difficult to surrender and trust when we are awaiting something we know we want or are made for, but our potential seems unseen, our abilities seem under appreciated, or our dreams and our realities are not the same yet.
But there is more than meets the eye at work during these times. When we are stripped of fullness- having a lot, or having even just enough to keep us comfortable- we have the time, if we choose to utilize it, to realize our foundation: what our true character is; what our entire life, inner and outer, is built on.
To discover what we actually have when we feel like we have nothing.
To discover what matters. What we really believe in; if we really have faith when we don't have the option to reach for anything else. Seasons like this- of the unknown, of anonymity, of confusion or even chaos- can be our best teachers.
They teach us patience.
They teach us re-evaluation.
They teach us what we're missing. They humble us. They can bring us hope and remove fear- often by demanding us to become intimate with it.
I've been finding over the years in my own life that the patience to wait (not anxiously, not self-promotingly) in seasons where 'nothing seems to be growing' has been a process I can only cultivate by looking deep within myself, within my soul, and by both trusting and relating to- working with, praying with, building relationship with- the original and ultimate author of my life. These seasons are not neutral times; they are not the universe being cruel and unusual and karmic with the things I hope and dream for.
I've learned that really, they are not the time for me to ask 'why me?,' or for my ego to victimize itself. They are a chance to face myself, know my God, and cultivate faith beyond that self.
They are necessary, God-appointed spaces of time for me to shift my focus to what ultimately matters. They are spaces of time with the huge potential to permanently change not just what I think, but who I am.
The past few years of my life have been something of a process of cultivating a beyond-human notion of patience, a realization that the decisions I make before I get out of times of darkness or confusion determine who I am after.
The process of commitment to character cultivation makes us what we are when life is imperfect, times are hard, and the future is unknown. Even when our thinking is negative or our emotions are unstable, if we are aware of our character, of who we really are, the world- our circumstances- does not shake our foothold.
And "commitment to character cultivation" takes decisive work and dedication: it is not just spiritual or psychological talk. It is a way of living with an awareness of our own personal human nature, and our need for the saving work of something higher than what we are.
Seasons of waiting are best spent not anticipating 'better,' 'more,' or 'more comfortable again,' but cultivating an inner life that believes in faith and hope: these two little things that make life lived without them a roller coaster where pain serves no higher purpose.
In James 1 we receive the counterintuitive instruction to "consider it pure joy" when we face trials, because we understand that the point of pain, discomfort, or waiting is to grow us in some very specific and ultimately good way.
Faith and hope happen not just when we've 'made it through' a tough season, but when we've made it through and come out truly, decisively, and committedly better than when we went in.
Perseverance takes vision: knowledge that something is ahead- even if we don't know what- that we feel drawn to move to. And faith and dependence on more than just ourselves makes our vision a lot more authentic.
"The testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4) With hope and faith for the future- both immediate and eternal- pain and waiting don't break us, they transform and mature us. Instead of making us broken into many pieces, they wind up integrating us: making us whole again in a better way. Endurance through discomfort takes a kind of bravery of the soul that the God-seeking heart cultivates daily.
Seasons of anonymity and confusion shape us into maturity and completeness: how beautiful to go through life knowing that even if everything is lost, confusing, and barren, nothing is lacking. How beautiful to go through life considering even our trials pure joy. How beautiful to hang our hope in the right place and be convicted and unshaken.
Most of us are, metaphorically speaking, much more partial to seasons of growth, sunlight, and abundance. Spiritual winters feel less than ideal. But God is never not at work. Clouds as much as sunshine, burial as much as growth, valleys as much as peaks (if not more) determine, to the observant, humble heart, everything about what we think, how we perceive, and who we ultimately become.