I’m laying low these days, walking through my daily routines, finding bits and pieces of quiet here and there. I recently tore through a new-to-me book — Spiritual Rhythm: Being with Jesus Every Season of Your Soul — by Mark Buchanan, one of my absolute favorite Christians authors. I have a habit of doing that with books I love: I read them as fast as I can, drinking in every word, eager to turn the next page. When I finish the last word of a book like that, I typically flip back to page one and begin again, more slowly, taking notes, and that’s exactly what I’ve done with Spiritual Rhythm.
Spiritual Rhythm spoke to me so clearly in this wilderness season, a season Buchanan calls the “winter of the soul.”
“Our souls, our hearts, have seasons, too,” Buchanan writes. “And always we can steward the season we find ourselves in.”
I hadn’t thought about the wilderness, or the winter of my soul, as a season I could “steward.” Endure, yes. Gut it out, with clenched teeth and fists, absolutely. Wait in it, maybe. But steward? I hadn’t thought about it quite that way before. Yet it seems that’s what I’ve been doing all along these past few months, even without realizing it.
Buchanan recommends several ways to steward the season of winter — “winter’s work” he calls it. I thought I’d share them with you, seeing as I’ve been practicing these disciplines myself lately, and they’ve helped me walk through this unwelcome but necessary season in my life.
Well of course, right? Prayer is an important spiritual discipline no matter what the season. But in winter, in the wilderness, not only is it more important than ever, I find I am more inclined to do it more authentically, from the heart. There’s a kind of desperation, a seeking, in wilderness prayers that isn’t always present in other more joyful and peaceful seasons.
My prayers have taken many forms: demanding, whiny, complaining, beseeching, lamenting, argumentative and even grateful and thankful. I don’t think it matters so much what kind of prayers we pray to God during the wilderness season, but simply that we keep praying, period; that we continue to seek relationship with him. Because the hard truth is, we might not hear back from God very clearly in our winter season. God, it seems, grows distant and quiet during this in-between time. As Buchanan says, “In man’s wintertime, he prays…according to what he knows of God, not what he sees of God.”
This is what I meant earlier when I say I am laying low this season. I’m saying no a little more, or saying yes to new things that are a bit off the beaten path for me. I’m hunkering down, quieting my schedule, as well as my heart and head as much as possible, so that I might hear God a bit better. Jesus told his disciples that a fruit-bearing life and a fruit-bearing relationship with him requires both abiding (remaining) and, at times, pruning:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1-2)
Let’s be honest. We don’t love pruning. Think about the shrub you pruned in your front yard last spring. You pretty much hacked it to the ground, didn’t you? You left maybe a few main branches here and there, but the rest? You snipped it off with the hedge trimmers, raked it into a pile and stuffed it into a trash barrel. And the shrub you left behind was stripped bare – ugly and pathetic looking.
That’s pruning. That’s what God’s been doing in my life this season, and I don’t love it. I feel stripped bare, ugly and pathetic. “What’s left?” I bemoan to God. “What are you leaving me?”
It’s easy to forget when you’re in the middle of it that spring always follows winter. And that shrub you hacked to the ground? A month or two later, it’s flowering, and then it’s leafing out, all tender and green with brand-new shoots. And by the end of summer, it’s more lush, robust and fruitful than ever before. All because of the pruning.
God often prunes our lives for us during the wilderness season, but we do a bit of pruning ourselves as well.
“Winter’s not for adding things but for cutting things. “It’s the best season, the safest one, actually, to look closely at all the tangled branches of your life…and ask honestly if these are bearing fruit or just sapping energy. And then, without apology or even caution, cut to nothing all that which gives nothing. Winter is when, it seems, God deprives us of much more than he bestows. But each deprivation is really cultivation.” — Mark Buchanan
Well I’ll tell you straight up, I don’t love the waiting. I’m a go-go-go girl, always onto the next project, the next goal, the next deadline. Literally five minutes after I got off the phone with my agent the afternoon she called to tell me my publisher had let me go, I turned on my computer and prepared to write my resume. Thankfully I couldn’t see the screen through my tears and had to retreat to the couch instead. Let me just say, in case you’re inclined to do the same thing: writing your resume the same day you are more or less fired from your job is not what you should be doing right in that moment.
God’s been teaching me a lot about my zest for productivity these last few months. Turns out, I have a little problem with “being productive.” I don’t know how not to be working — producing — all the time. Turns out I define myself, I value myself, based on how much and how well I produce. God has used this wilderness season, this season of waiting and unproductivity, to teach me some important, hard lessons about that – lessons I probably wouldn’t have learned otherwise.
“Waiting is necessary for faith in the same way a chrysalis is necessary for a caterpillar, to change it from a grub that crawls the earth to a butterfly that dances the air,” Buchanan says. “Waiting builds faith’s backbone.”
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it until I’m done with it: the wilderness season is no joke. Winter, as those of you in the Northeast know right now, is tough, especially when it feels like you can’t find, or dig, a straight path. But as I live through it, I am learning that winter is critical for spiritual growth. The barren wintry wilderness grows us in ways no other season can.