Our modern sensibilities are often repulsed by the absence of God and seasons of loss and struggle. But, the writers of scripture seemed to be much more familiar with seasons of pain. The Psalms are full of examples of lament and downtrodden moments. Psalm 88 reads like a personal diary entry from a patient with clinical depression:
I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death
…I am confined and I cannot escape
My eyes are dim with grief
Last week I discussed that there is often a pattern to our spiritual growth. That there is fast, rapid growth followed by slower sustained growth and even a time of dryness or dormancy where no growth is happening. I expressed that it would be helpful to think of our spiritual lives like a tree that has to go through all of the seasons in order to thrive and bloom and flourish. But do we really have to go through a winter season in our spiritual lives? How can we receive a benefit from a season of no growth?
Personally, I have experienced a time recently where nothing seemed to go right, where loss was at every turn and my prayers seemed ignored and discarded like trash. Last May, I wrote these words, “I don’t understand what he(God) is doing and most importantly the way he is doing it and the timing of his work seems to be more twisted and cruel than fulfilling. I know I am not being objective but to have good things snatched from me over and over has left me jaded, timid, and less of a risk taker. “
The thing is, this time of darkness, like winter, is a necessity. Trees need the deadness of winter in order to be ready for the blossoming of spring and the expanded growth of summer. Our spiritual lives need dormancy in order to grow one thing – faith.
When else are we going to grow our faith (confidence) in God. Not in seasons of great growth. As Mark Buchanan says, “As delightful, as fertile, as the summertime of the heart is, it is almost useless for growing faith. It may produce a bounty of joy, vast crops of thanksgiving. But not faith….”
This kind of faith is absolutely essential to our life with God. If we have not built up this kind of faith then any whim or mood or poor circumstance will throw us off course and tempt us to turn our back on God.
Winter is the best time for faith building because there may not be anything around us that points to the miraculous, the transcendent, or the divine. Yet, we go on praying, we keep reading our Bibles, we wait, we start to recognize that the character and presence of God is so great and transforming that we trust that he knows what he is doing, even as we languish in struggle and pain.
Somehow, during that time of loss and darkness last May, I held onto enough faith to write this, “My disappointment hasn’t turned to worship and joy and I am fighting off the words of Satan that wants me to turn my back on God and think all of the worst lies about myself. I want to see Jesus and the miracle of his resurrection for myself. Though I am frustrated, I believe that my desperation mixed with God’s desire to show up will result in something glorious.”
I realize now that I had discovered a strengthening of faith that I could have never received unless I had gone through the darkness and the pain. God was unseen and less than active, at least from my perspective, but I was trusting him anyway. That is faith and that can only happen in times of winter.
If you are going through your own time of dormancy you have my sympathies. Just wait, keep praying, believe the promises of God. Growth is coming and it will be even greater because you have built up your faith in the darkest times.