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When I worked as an interpretive naturalist for Story County Conservation, I was always given most of the winter outdoor school programming. I was the one who was usually tagged to spend hours upon hours hiking in the snow and cold, in order to hopefully provide children with a positive experience of winter.
So, you might wonder why was I the lucky one tagged?
Well, my colleagues reasoned that since I grew up in Minnesota, I was ”Minnesota hardy.” They felt I should be so familiar with this type of weather, that I wouldn’t complain much about being out in the elements for long periods of time. They reasoned that I would endure it better than they would.
In this case, they were probably right. I am Minnesota hardy!
Honestly, I didn’t resent being the one who was always stuck out in the winter woods, freezing my toes and fingers. Truth be told, I loved it! For me, the winter woods are exceptionally beautiful. I want to spend time hiking in them. I certainly do not see winter as being harsh and unforgiving.
You may think differently. It all boils down to perspective.
I’ve heard many say that the winter season is too cold, too snowy, too dark, or too barren of life. They can only see the negatives. They often feel that winter is just something you must endure and get through. And I suppose that is fair assessment, but if all you are focused on is enduring through, then you miss the gifts that winter offers.
Let me explain. I love winter because of the clarity and the simplicity of the winter environment. You can easily make out the contours of the hills and ridges of the land. Winter is where the mysteries of the woods are more easily revealed. When trees are stripped down to bare branches you can easily notice the white-breasted nuthatch winding headfirst down a tree trunk or see the leafy nests that the squirrels have left behind. When you strip away all that extra stuff you can notice what lies buried beneath.
I suppose that’s why people will sometimes describe going through the difficult and painful stuff of life as being a winter season of their soul. It is an apt description for those times when we are experiencing the challenges, the disappointments, the grief, the losses, or the transitions that life routinely offers us. It makes sense. In those times, we are often stripped down to our bare branches, looking for those deeper understandings lying beneath.
How we view these winter seasons of our spiritual journey is again a matter of perspective.
In these first few months of retirement, I must say I have felt that I am wandering through a wintry part of my spiritual journey. So much has changed in my life. So many transitions. So much of the “stuff” that kept me busy as a pastor has been stripped away. There are very few deadlines to complete, there are no sermons to write, and thankfully there are no statistical reports to be filled out.
Instead in this landscape, I have time on my hands to just putz around. And although I find this space to be challenging at times, I have also appreciated the clarity it offers. I now have time to watch the birds; to notice how the snow settles on the bare branches; to savor the beauty of the winter sunrise.
My perspective of who I am as a person is changing.
This season of winter in my life has been a time of waiting to see where I will be led next. It has been a time of giving space to listen for God’s direction in my life. It has been a time of settling into this wintry landscape and being okay with the uncertainty it offers. I realize, I am discerning a new rhythm – a rhythm of being a retired person. And honestly, with all the extra stuff being stripped away, I have been surprised by what I am finding buried beneath.
But isn’t that often the nature of the spiritual journey whether it is the transition to retirement, transition to a new church, or the transition of what it will mean to be United Methodist in the future. Transitions invite us to get down to the bare branches and see what lies beneath. Who knows what we may find.
Of course, the winter wilderness is not for the faint of heart. At times, it is unsettling to have so much time on my hands for contemplation and discernment. At times, it has been challenging to have so much quiet around me. At times, it has felt like an uncomfortable space to inhabit. Sometimes waiting for change, for what might burst forth, is a little overwhelming. However, by choosing to embrace this time of winter and be intentional in looking for beauty, I have been blessed by unexpected grace.
Yes, it’s all a matter of perspective.
Are the winter seasons of our lives, something to be endured or something to be experienced in all the richness that is offered? Are those times, something to be avoided or something to embrace fully?
For me, I am loving this winter season as I experience it physically and spiritually. I see it as a necessary part of my life, so I am embracing it for all it offers. I wouldn’t have it any other way.