“All that summer conceals, winter reveals.” Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
I live in Southern California. To call our winters mild is a wild understatement. But souls have winters, too. And whether you live close to the equator or not, the world has been experiencing a winter of a year. While such winters chill us, they also give offer us the strange gifts of dormancy and exposure.
Though we have fake grass, we do have an enormous tree in our front yard. In the summer and spring, it’s fullness can be seen from around the block. It so abounds in leaves you can barely see its branches. In our San Diego winter which feels more like a pseudo-fall, its leaves drop en masse, exposing its gangly, knotted branches. Our tree looks languid and exposed; however, in the winter, I am able to appreciate its actual frame.
The past nine months have been a weird winter for the world. Things that would normally be covered up by busyness, activity, prosperity, and freedom are being exposed in our societies and our souls. As my husband has said about this season, “We are being told on.” Our idols are being exposed. Without freedom to go about as we please, our frustrations tell reveal fractured souls looking for contentment in circumstances. In isolation, we have to face the emptiness that we find within us.
My initial response to such a winter’s shaking is to grieve all that is falling to the ground. At first, I saw only the scraggy skeleton that once carried such health. It took a few weeks for me to begin to appreciate the chance to better examine what health covers up. I don’t like being exposed in this season. My heart feels as naked as our bare tree. The places I normally run for immediate comfort, significance, and security are blocked off. I don’t like what I see in myself when my plans are thwarted and lesser hopes are deferred.
Our God loves us enough to give us winters, both physical and spiritual. His love is strong enough to expose us in our sin-sickness. Though it is not a typical book to be studied during Advent, Hosea has been instructing and informing my heart this double winter. Using the real story of an adulterous wife and her sacrificially-committed husband, God draws the picture of his pursuing -even-to-the-point of pain love for his whoring people.
“Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. She shall pursue her lovers, but not overtake them, and she shall seek them, but shall not find them. Then she will say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now” (Hosea 2:6-7).
Being hedged by thorny paths is not comfortable. Being called out for our adulterous affections for lesser lovers is embarrassing and humbling. But repentance and returning (again and again) to the One who loved us enough to die for us is the path to life.
As such, I am fighting to receive the gifts of this strange winter-like year. The spring will come again, and trees, once barren will abound with buds. But I want the winter to do its necessary work. I need the forced exposure and dormancy that winter brings to lead me to the One who ushers in all seasons for our good and His glory.