Winter in Durban, South Africa; daytime temperatures of around 25 degrees centigrade (77 Fahrenheit), clear blue skies and very little rain. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
But it’s still winter. The other day, we had to ask the guy who helps in our garden to leave earlier than usual; there was nothing for him to do. The weeds don’t grow, but then neither do bushes or grass. It stays dark later in the morning, and becomes dark again early in the evening – hard for a community and culture used to 4.30am starts, with a jog or surf possible before heading out to work each day, and balmy summer afternoons fit for beach strolls and picnics.
“A season for everything
In Ecclesiastes, the Teacher wisely states ‘There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.‘ (Ecc 3:1). Right back at the beginning, God created there to be ‘lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark season and days and years…’.
If God felt it necessary to create physical distinctions between the different seasons, giving them specific signs and purpose, I think it’s safe to assume that He has chosen to do the same in the spiritual realm. After all, as Paul writes in Romans 1:19 and 20 ‘For that which is known about God is evident to [us] and made plain in [our] inner consciousness, because God Himself has shown it to [us]. For ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature and attributes, that is, His eternal power and divinity, have been made intelligible and clearly discernible in and through the things that he has made – His handiworks.‘ (Amplified version).
So what does that mean for me, in my life and walk with Jesus? Firstly, perhaps, that I need to recognize there will be periods of difference, of distinct change, as I journey. Some will be like summer, where everything is clear and bright, filled with fun and enjoyment; others will be like winter, with little or no growth and a seeming pause on all that I find myself involved in. When I know the season I’m in and understand that I can’t actually make it change anyway, the fight against where I find myself becomes less and I can take the time to embrace, maybe even enjoy it instead.
Secondly, I need to learn to read the signs that indicate which season I’m currently in. In Durban, we don’t really experience spring or fall; summer just seems to stop and winter to start, almost overnight. In the UK, where I grew up, those intermediary seasons were obvious and universally interpreted. Spring saw the frost and snow gradually melting and new flowers emerging from under their winter blankets; fall brought the delight of leaves changing color, and their crunch underfoot as they fell to the ground. Sometimes it may be very clear when we’re leaving one spiritual season and entering another; other times not so simple. I need to be constantly checking with the Holy Spirit to make sure I’m reading things right.
And thirdly, as I choose to see and embrace the season I’m in, it becomes possible to discern it’s purpose. Even when experiencing the seeming barrenness of winter.
Round the dinner table the other night, we got chatting as a family about the preserving and pickling of fruits and vegetables. I explained that this was from the days before refrigeration, when people loath to see their hard-earned harvest rot away had developed techniques and recipes to ensure it would last well into the winter months. And as I spoke, it occurred to me that harvest-time is a period of intense hard work and focus and yet is followed by months of inactivity and rest induced by the colder, darker days. Could it perhaps be, that when I’ve had a particularly busy time ‘harvesting’ – either among the people God has placed me alongside, or just in my own personal walk with Him – He is kind and gracious and follows it with a period of rest and reflection before the next big ‘growth spurt’ of spring?
One of the best things about a Durban winter is the gentleness of the sun. The light has a particularly soft glow throughout the day, sunscreen isn’t as necessary, outdoor activity at mid-day is a pleasure. And then there are the plants and flowers that only bloom now; the red and yellow aloes reaching like fingers to the sky or the small yellow sunflowers dancing in abundance along the side of roads.
Could it be, that just as certain flowers only bloom at this time of year under the kinder gaze of a winter sun, there are blossoms in my own life which are awakened best with winter ‘Son-shine’?