Written by Paige Uhl
Sunshine in the dead of winter feels different than it does in the middle of the summer. The rays reach across the heavens and deep into the windows of every frost-bitten house, and it feels as if they were born with great effort and struggle into winter’s arms. It is like gold filigree against a canvas stroked with gray tones. The house plants reach out as far as they can so that the edge of their limbs can touch that rich warmth. And we do the same. We stand in the kitchen with eyes closed and let those morning rays dance happily on our faces for a moment or two before going about our daily routines.
In the middle of winter, we long for the sun. Not only do our bodies need a good dose of sunshine to survive, but our minds crave it in order to thrive.
I have a full house of plants. I think the current count is thirty. Keeping these little darlings alive is always a feat in winter. I’m constantly moving them around to get more light, trying to find new ways to get them the water they need, and trying to keep my apartment feeling like a greenhouse. The other day, as I was vainly trying to repot a particular plant that was looking especially droopy, I said under my breath, “I can keep these plants alive, but I don’t think I can make them thrive.” I think we feel a bit like droopy houseplants in the winter…surviving, yes., but not thriving. Not “living our best life” as our culture recommends. Not blooming and growing.
For a Christian, battling bouts of seasonal depression or feelings of hopelessness in winter can make us feel like we must be doing something wrong. After all, aren’t Christians constantly full of “the joy of the Lord?” Aren’t we supposed to be people of hope in a hopeless world? Aren’t we supposed to be untouched by the infirmities of creaturely life? Ideally, yes. We were designed and created to live this way. In fact, in God’s original blueprint for this planet way back in Genesis 1, humans were meant to exist in a reality conducive to maximum human thriving—not just survival. It was rich and abundant life in a lush garden with all the plants and all the fruits and vegetables two people could possibly want…that is, except one.
Adam and Eve chose to go after the one fruit they couldn’t have, and thriving turned to surviving. God told Adam that working the soil was going to take work and sweat and fatigue. Eve’s task of bearing children would be met with pain and anguish. Adam’s efforts to grow things and Eve’s desire to produce life would both be met, at times, with disappointment and struggle. The winter had come for those two garden exiles. And so, God’s plan for human existence and the thriving He desired for us was marred. This means we will go through fallow-soil and droopy-limbed seasons. We will lose our joy. Our best life will feel like a distant thought, a hollow dream. It is part of the fall.
But these seasons are not without hope.
Generations passed from Adam and Eve to a young man destined to be king, but who lived as a runaway. David had many seasons of very high highs and extremely low lows in his life. We know this because the book of Psalms, a book about wrestling raw emotions and struggling to find hope, is filled with some of his writings. David wasn’t happy all the time. David probably wouldn’t tell anyone he was thriving when he was hiding for his life. But, David knew where to find hope in his “cave” moments (really, his “winter”). Take, for example, some of his words in Psalm 5:
Listen to my words, Lord;
consider my sighing.
Pay attention to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for I pray to you.
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I plead my case to you and watch expectantly.
In these verses, we can see David do three things: 1) he expresses to God how he feels and what is going on; 2) he asks God to pay attention to his prayers; and 3) he reminds himself of who God is, and of the fact that God does indeed hear him. This three-step process of David venting to God, asking God to act, and reminding himself of who God is can be seen throughout other Psalms he has written. Consider the very next Psalm, chapter six. David says in verses 1-5:
Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger;
do not discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, Lord, for I am weak
heal me, Lord, for my bones are shaking;
my whole being is shaken with terror.
And you, Lord—how long?
Turn, Lord! Rescue me;
save me because of your faithful love.
For there is no remembrance of you in death;
who can thank you in Sheol?
We see here that David again tells God how he feels: he is weak, shaken with terror. He asks God to act on his behalf–to rescue him and save him from his situation.
David reminds himself of truths he knows about God in verses 9-10 of this Psalm:
The Lord has heard my plea for help;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies will be ashamed and shake with terror;
they will turn back and suddenly be disgraced.
David is the perfect example for us as believers of someone who was not always happy or thriving in the situations he was in, but who had hope and joy at his core because he knew Who was sustaining him. God is the One Who helped him to survive, Who would, according to His perfect plan, eventually bring justice upon the evil people that had caused David so much grief. David was fully surrendered to this plan as the man who was after God’s heart. He trusted God. He believed God. And he knew how to remind himself of truth.
So, here we are. Halfway through a seemingly endless winter. Our limbs are droopy. Our skin craves sunshine, and so do our minds. It is okay to be real about what hurts. It is okay to tell God how you feel. But, do you know how to speak truth to yourself? Do you know to remind yourself that even though the effects of the fall hurt us all, God promised in the very same chapter that He would send Someone Who would undo what the curse of sin caused (Gen. 3:15)? Do you know how to remind yourself that although this situation feels hopeless, there is hope to be found in the One Who braved and embraced the human condition to save you (John 16:33)? Do you know how to remind yourself that although you may not feel like you are thriving, Jesus came to give you an abundant life (John 10:10)? This means Jesus is committed to growing you, even in the winter. If anyone knows how to bring forth life, it is the One who designed root systems that were built to last. When you feel like you are just surviving, God is the One Who helps you to thrive. He doesn’t hibernate for the winter. He is at work. He is moving. He who began the good work in you will finish it (Phil. 1:6).
Take heart in this season. Spring is coming, yes. But don’t lose sight of the work God is doing in the winter. Like that tender little houseplant, reach out to feel the warmth of the Son that is reaching down to meet you right where you are.