cold snow wood landscape

Why We Need Winter To Become Whole

by Frank Powell

What’s your favorite season? You can’t pick fall. That’s mine. Is it spring? Summer? I bet if I asked a thousand people, half would say fall, the other half spring. I would bet my house, however, no more than five would choose winter. Why would you? Who looks forward to winter? It’s cold. Creation dies. Leaves tumble to the ground. Grass goes dormant. Color vanishes from the earth. 

We hate winter because it’s uncomfortable. The cold hurts our body. The lack of life around us messes with our mind, reminds us of the inevitability of our own death. There’s a reason depression is so high in the cold months. We endure the winter. But I suspect if we had a choice, we would do away with it altogether, live in an endless summer. If God approached you today, and said, “Sally or Tom or whatever, I’m going to do away with winter. Just extend the other seasons a month. What do you think?” 

Thank God. I mean, thank you. I mean, what took you so long, God? Best decision you ever made. Other than Jesus, of course. 

Winter is Essential for Life

Have you ever stopped to consider, though, that winter exists for a reason? Winter is a time of renewal, of rebirth. It’s a time to slow down, to purge, to let go. We bark and yell at the stars over this maligned time of year, meanwhile the rest of creation takes it in stride. Trees don’t throw their fists at God. They just shed their leaves and lean into death. Animals don’t hate winter, either. Winter isn’t an add-on or unnecessary season, it’s only purpose to ignite our melancholy. 

Winter is necessary for life. 

We’re summer people. We like warmth and light and color. In the summer, everything is at our fingertips. Nature. The ocean. The mountains. Nothing is off-limits. We can do it all. 

Summer people hate the winter. Its barrenness offends our sensibilities. Its slowness messes with our minds. The lack of options makes us feel trapped. Above all else, we want options, don’t we? We want freedom. We want to do what we want, when we want it. 

We are the only creatures in all of creation that deny the winter. And we are the only creatures in all of creation that wrestle with identity and purpose

We Need Seasons Where We Stop Doing

We deny the winter to our own peril. I’m speaking here of life, of your life, and mine. We hate anything that resembles slowness or letting go, loss or lack of productivity. Like the seasons of the year, our lives were meant to include winter, times where we stopped doing, stopped producing. We were supposed to build them into the fabric of our existence, as a way to maintain balance and rhythm, to keep us centered and grounded, full of joy and peace and hope. Instead, we drowned winter in the waters of our personal comfort and absolute refusal to embrace anything that looks like pain or loss. 

There are many reasons we’re living in troubled, unsettled times, why anxiety and depression and chronic illness blanket our land like a thick fog. One of the big reasons is our refusal to embrace the winters of our lives. Our manic desire for spring and summer and fall, the happy and peaceful and successful times, erode our individual and collective well-being. You can’t expect to find peace when you deny the winter. 

Our modern world is incredible. We live in truly remarkable times. We can cure illnesses and communicate with people across the globe. In the near future, we will build a colony on another planet. But the great tragedy of the modern age is it fools us into thinking we can build or buy our way out of pain. You can’t. Pain is part of the deal. 

I wonder sometimes what kind of people we might be if we stopped avoiding winter? What if we built in seasons of rest and renewal? What if we set aside a certain time, every year or so, where we refused to do, and intentionally slowed our pace?

I think about this in my own life, and I can help but feel regret. Maybe you don’t know much about my story. Here’s a summary: the first thirty years of my life, I was healthy. I did whatever I wanted. Then, I became really sick with a mysterious illness. The illness worsened. I lost my job. I became bed-ridden. After six years, I found a program that healed my brain and restored my life. 

Looking back, my body tried to send me signals, before the mysterious illness began. On numerous different occasions, I battled severe nausea and bouts of depression, usually in the throws of my busiest seasons. It’s like my body was screaming at me. “Hey, man, you’re doing too much. We can’t continue like this. Slow down. Take a break.” 

I couldn’t take a break, though. I had too much to do. I was in ministry. I had dreams of starting a church. Do you know how much time and energy that requires? A lot.

So, I tarried on, even though the tires wobbled, and the engine smoked. I refused to slow down. Finally, my body gave out. Could I have avoided years of intense pain and suffering if I took care of my body, if I set aside seasons where I did nothing? No way to know for sure, but I believe the answer is yes. 

Winter Births Wisdom

I get it. Winter is hard. But winter is also beautiful. The greatest and most transformative insights occur in the winter. I learned more about myself and God in the barren seasons of my life than in all the thriving seasons combined. In the winters of our lives, we have the space to look inward, to remind ourselves that we aren’t created to do, but to be. We’re human beings. We live and we die, and in between we love and we suffer, we build up and we tear down. All of it matters. I am more than what I accomplish.

Those who embrace winter know this. Those who embrace winter have wisdom the rest of the world doesn’t have. Wisdom is found in the winter.

It’s January where I live, which means it’s January where you live as well. We’re entering the doldrums of winter. Look around. Most of creation is dormant. But it’s not dead. It’s resting and renewing for the upcoming months. 

Maybe it’s time for us to take a cue from creation. It’s okay to rest. It’s okay to let go. Do you need to let go of some things? Are you doing too much? You probably are. I am too. There’s something in your life that sucks the energy from your bones, but you continue with it anyway. Stop that. Are you involved in too many activities? Are you clinging to a relationship you know is over? Are you giving yourself to a job you don’t enjoy trying to attain a title that will never give you the satisfaction you desire? Are you investing stores of energy in the past, holding grudges or bitterness towards people who hurt you? Are you devoting energy towards the future, in a hopeless and futile desire to control what hasn’t yet happened? Let. It. Go. 

Or maybe you’re going through a season of suffering. You just lost someone you love, a parent or a child or a sibling or a friend. You’re in the midst of a deep, dark, lonely winter. I’m so sorry. Mourn. Rest until your mind and heart are ready to re-enter the world. All of creation joins with you. Creation knows the sting of death. It dies every year, around this time. 

Winter isn’t awful. We need winter if we wish to become whole.

Grace and peace, friends. 

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