Waiting Through Winter

Arizona is the place I call home, and it’s a place that is frequently accused of having no seasons, but this isn’t strictly true. There’s no snow in the winter but it can and does get chilly. And the summers are awful but they’re dry and in some ways no worse than many other places. Spring is breathtakingly beautiful.

So really, when people say that Arizona has no seasons, what they mean is that Arizona has no autumn, and unfortunately I can’t argue that one. The Midwest and the South and other places that experience hot humid summers get a reprieve from that discomfort in the fall. The temperature drops, the humidity lessens, and the leaves begin to change. By the time football season is in full swing there’s a chill in the air and no one thinks twice about wearing boots and scarves and ordering their pumpkin spice lattes hot instead of iced.

Not in Arizona. The heat (though it’s dry) stubbornly persists through September, through October, sometimes through November. A few years back it was 85 and sunny on Christmas day and I wanted to cry.

Many people long to live someplace where all four seasons come and go with regularity. Distinct seasons can give an order and an interest to life that create a sense of security. Seasons give us something to look forward to, and provide a kind of big picture rhythm to life. There’s something inside of us that craves that.

While we crave the literal seasons of our environment, sometimes we resist the metaphorical seasons of life a bit, and maybe one reason is that they tend to be less predictable. Depending where you live, you learn when winter really ends and spring starts, you know when the summer heat is mild and when it’s unbearable, you get a feel for when the crispness of fall starts to set in.

There’s less predictability to the seasons of life. When your child enters a difficult stage, you don’t know how long that will last. When work is challenging, you can’t count down three months until it becomes less challenging.

And this is true for the good seasons too. Everyone loves the honeymoon stage of a romantic relationship, but for some couples that lasts two weeks and for some it lasts two years. We can’t possibly know how long our life seasons will last, and we don’t like that uncertainty.

But as I grow older, I’ve learned the reality that seasons do indeed pass. I was still in my early twenties when I had my first child, and he was a hard baby. There was nothing wrong with him, he was just hard. He cried a lot, he slept a little, he didn’t nurse well, he didn’t enjoy snuggling. It was just hard, and I was exhausted. Many well-meaning people patted me on the back and told me that this season would pass. During most times in my life I don’t mind hearing advice and encouragement from others, even when it misses the mark, because I believe that it is well-meant. But exhaustion made me feel a tiny bit crazy, and the stores of grace I possessed to show others became pretty depleted, and at that particular time I thought I might scream if one more person informed me that the season would pass.

You see, I knew it would pass, I just didn’t believe it would, if that makes any sense. Logically, I understood that my child would not be a screamy baby forever, but it really felt like the season would never end.

Now I’ve had four children, and I’ve experienced the truth that the newborn season ends. What I once knew to be true theoretically I now know to be true practically, and this knowledge means it got easier each time around. I don’t think it was easier just because of the temperaments of each of my babies. It was because I’d learned what it really meant to view those newborn months as a season, one that was as precious as it was challenging.

What I experienced as a weary mother to newborns is true in any season that has difficulty. I’m not speaking about deep and dark difficulty here. The concept may still apply, but seasons of serious loss and pain require a different kind of perspective, and I don’t want to trivialize that. What I’m talking about here is the kind of difficulty that comes in the normal course of life.

Exhaustion, illness, difficult relationships, frustration at work, financial stress…These are things most of us experience to some degree at various points in our lives, and they are things that can feel like they define us while they’re happening. But hear this: The temporary difficulty you are experiencing does not define your life.

Difficult seasons can drop a cloud over us that makes it hard to see beyond the difficulty to the good that has gone before or is yet to come or is still happening on the periphery of our experience. But we can’t let the cloud define our existence. It’s vapor. It’s not substantial. It does impact our lives in meaningful ways, just as a real cloud darkens the space around us and sometimes brings rain, but like a real cloud, it drifts away once it’s accomplished its purpose. And, like clouds and rain that create growth in the earth, difficult seasons usually create growth in the person.

This has been such a valuable lesson for me to learn. I can’t predict how long a particular difficulty will last, but I can identify it as a season, and these kinds of seasons give shape and beauty to our lives just as literal seasons give shape and beauty to our years. A cruel winter won’t last forever, even if it’s long and hard and leaves some frostbite behind. And the cruel winter makes the spring that much sweeter, and gives some perspective next time winter comes.

I want to give the same advice that I needed to hear when my first baby was little. I didn’t need to hear that the season would pass. I needed to be encouraged to persevere. Focusing on the fact that the season would pass made me impatient for the end to come. Focusing on perseverance made me face the season with renewed purpose. And focusing on the present helped me to appreciate what I’d been missing when I focused on the unattainable future. It helped me to be all-in with my sweet baby, who was so very precious to me in spite of the challenges.

If you spend all your time trying to swish away the mists of difficulty instead of walking through them with purpose, those mists will seem heavier and bigger than they are. But if you recognize those mists for what they are — a cloudy season — then you can adjust to the clouds and prepare for the rain and know that there will be growth and beauty on the other side.

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