What to do During a Winter of the Soul


Peek at my archives and you’ll sense the swell and deflation, my spirit in its own seasonal rhythms. Blogging for a few years now, I’m just now able to see it myself, how my passions ebb and flow, how I handle darkness, how I celebrate Spring.

When my soul hits Winter, I feel compelled to hide, ashamed sometimes by the quietness from my God, by my lack of interest in otherwise totally enjoyable things, and by my strong sense of aloneness – the island feeling.

And I feel everything to the quick; so when I first saw the title of Mark Buchanan’s new book Spiritual Rhythm, I knew what it was about and quickly acknowledged that my soul had spent much time in Winter, and I was ready to know why and take some advice on what to do about it, how to see it.

I know the soul’s Winter because of things I would never write here. Yes there are things that I do not write. Some things aren’t mine to tell. Yet I own them all the same.

Buchanan actually begins Spiritual Rhythms with Winter, exactly what I needed. I didn’t expect such beautiful writing, and I didn’t expect anyone to ever articulate Winter of the Soul the way he does: from experience with dark sorrow that renders one mute and friendless. He knows Winter well after having lost a dear one.

The snow still lays on the florescent ground at least 15 inches deep. The sun breaks through the window blinds, and I read the chapter called, “Winter Activities.” And without stepping foot out of this needed season of struggling faith, I am truly encouraged.

There’s extra work to do in every season, and winter’s work is the hardest for me: prayer, pruning, and waiting. But Buchanan calls it good, and I believe that he’s right because He’s agreeing with Biblical truth.

I’ve been with the Lord long enough to know that He faithfully meets me on the other side of my funks, but I’ve never been diligent enough in the dark places to see the growth of pure faith while it’s happening, to persevere in prayer according to what I know of God rather than according to what I see of God. No matter what I feel or experience, I desperately need to learn to pray without ceasing because isn’t true faith believing in the unseen, a “fierce, hardy Scotch broom of a thing that clings to rock and ledge, grows in sour places, withstands hurricanes (53)”?

Without Winter, we couldn’t prune for Spring, wouldn’t see the fruit blossom in nourished abundant expectation. Buchanan encourages a cutting back during our soul’s Winter, to “ask honestly if these [responsibilities] are bearing fruit or just sapping energy (50).”

Also in the winter waiting, true faith grounds itself in hope that is certain, the hope of heaven, when we’re finally filled with glory. We know full well and long for Spring, the resurrection.

A Winter of the Soul comes with gifts that no other season offers, too: opportunities to re-imagine our lives as they really should be, to know what matters and what doesn’t, to anticipate heaven the way only one who’s suffered can. Releasing the branches that go with pruning allows a lightened load and opportunity for unadulterated fun. In Winter we can allow ourselves to play.

Jesus is indeed a man, yes a God, of every season, and Winter wouldn’t be cycled into our souls were it not to make us like Him, acquainted with sorrow and filled to the brim with greatest hope.

*This post was prompted by Amber Robinson as we read through Spiritual Rhythm together. Care to join us?
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14 Comments

Amber2
Reply February 11, 2011

Love this - "Releasing the branches that go with pruning allows a lightened load and opportunity for unadulterated fun. In Winter we can allow ourselves to play."

    Amber
    Reply February 11, 2011

    Amber, I've been tweeting. That's dorky, but I love it.

    And I've been reading and I say poems aloud and I cry and I feel more like the person I was born to be when I let myself do that.

    I hold my babies.

    I let the dishes pile.

    It's winter, I say. These are the things you do in winter.

Seth
Reply February 12, 2011

This really is good, Amber. It reminds me of Joan Chittister's book on The Liturgical Year. The industrialized pace of life has become so fast, so automated and "connected" that I fear we have lost rythm (I know I have). So when you find yourself in the dark winter, with time or space to reflect, it can go on for what seems like forever. Catholic tradition uses a calendar to signal the turning in the reflections of the heart. Sometimes I wish we protestants had the same type of device.... but I digress.

And perhaps the best sentence ever written on your blog is found here... "He faithfully meets me on the other side of my funks."

Amber
Reply February 12, 2011

The funks. They can be legit.

It's funny, though, I know I'm in a slow coming out of "Winter" right now, but it's not that bad. I am still finding a lot of joy in this life, with my Valentine.

Tammy@if meadows speak
Reply February 12, 2011

My soul winters lasted longer than the typical 3 month (Dec, Jan, Feb) cycles and stretched into months almost reaching a year. I've had 2 very signifigant ones with definite imprints on my journey. The last one was 2 years ago and my soul SPRING seemed to inch in with slow motion until I could feel the blossoms and the warmth of spring in full bloom. I bought 2 books from Buchanan, but not this one. Although I saw it and knew: I'm going to have it for our "library" collection. As for your winer, Amber, at least your writing it. We need to hear from the winter places too. To be reminded of all the seasons of faith and that there is a spring just around your corner.

    Amber
    Reply February 12, 2011

    Tammy, this is exactly what Buchanan says, that some winters can even last years. They don't usually match up the flowers and snow. My winter started last Spring, I think, with family and adoption stuff. I had a huge break through filled with such gratitude this past month, and now I've had a few weeks of lowness, like when it turns warm for a few weeks, but then winter throws in another blow.

    I'm definitely headed toward Spring. You're right though. It can be slow coming, huh?

    Writing in the Winter is the hardest.

    Thank you for encouraging.

Linda
Reply February 12, 2011

Thank you Amber. Oh how I need to hear this. I am there....and the thing I am guilty of is " I’ve never been diligent enough in the dark places to see the growth of pure faith while it’s happening, to persevere in prayer according to what I know of God rather than according to what I see of God."
Yes.

Peggy
Reply February 12, 2011

Amber, I could so relate to your blog today. I've been in a dark winter of the soul for almost 5 years. And although it's been one of the most uncomfortable times of my life, Oh, what lessons God has taught me through it. And as spring gets closer this year, I can sense a spring coming in my heart as well. I will be looking for that book. Thanks so much for being honest about these difficult seasons.

Melissa@one thing
Reply February 12, 2011

Picked up this book the other day and put it in my 'to read' pile...it may have to move up a couple now. Sounds like the kind of reading I should do...I've heard Mark speak...he is humble and gentle and I liked him much from across the room.

emily wierenga
Reply February 13, 2011

i know this winter. i need this book. thank you, amber.

Candace
Reply February 13, 2011

I have been reading this book only own and just stumbled onto your post. I struggle with depression and this book has been so very encouraging for me. I enjoyed your post as well. It is nice to feel that I am not alone. :)

shelly
Reply February 14, 2011

I'm so glad you are reading this book....I've wanted to pick it up but have hesitated because I've had no personal recommendation so I'm glad for the "stamp of approval" from you :) I feel on the verge of tears most of the time...is your winter like that? Such deep sorrow over the harshness of life...but also such hope. I was reminded of the verse in Colossians (thanks Ann Voskamp for the scripture memory challenge :) when you said "also in the winter true faith grounds itself in hope that is certain"... Colossians says " the faith and love that SPRING from the hope stored up for you in heaven". May our hope "spring" us into a joyous season of deeper faith and love! I enjoy your writing so!

Lena
Reply February 14, 2011

Thats a great book to read. I never knew about the seasons of the soul until lately. Yes, the soul in the winter is bleak, cold, and windy. I posted some pictures of what life can be like in the season of bleakness on my blog, it seems that we are talking about the same things here.

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