In these days of sheltering in place, my backyard has become my sanctuary. I love to sit outside and gaze upon the lush and colorful landscape that quietly proclaims spring has arrived. But when I turn my eyes inward and gaze into my soul, my spirit doesn’t quite believe this reality.
In his book Spiritual Rhythm: Being with Jesus Every Season of your Soul, Mark Buchanan draws a parallel between the seasons of nature’s cycle and the spiritual seasons we experience in our journeys of faith. He describes the spiritual season of winter as one that is characterized by loss, struggle, and isolation. In winter, God seems distant, prayer feels difficult, and loneliness is ever-present. These words resonate deeply with my experience these past two months. Though I have experienced God’s grace during this time (sacred moments with family, the joy of reading a favorite book, long walks in beautiful weather), my soul has mostly felt restless and unsettled.
The realities of social distancing have definitely taken a spiritual toll. I’m a people person. I miss hugs, handshakes, and high fives. I miss the joy of experiencing brothers and sisters worshipping God together. I miss conversations over coffee at a local café. I like to see people’s entire face when I talk to them, not ones half-covered by a mask. I keep waiting and wondering when this will end. But waiting is exactly what winter is all about. Because in the waiting, God is at work doing what he does best in winter: pruning. Jesus promised us that pruning is part of being a disciple. There have and will be times when all the extra stuff in our lives gets cut away and our soul is stripped down and laid bare. This can be a painful experience that leaves us feeling vulnerable. But it also comes with a promise. Jesus said,“…he cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:2).
If I’m honest, I’m not entirely sure what God is up to in my soul. I definitely feel the deep cuts of the pruning shears, but I can’t quite tell what fruit will be born as a result. Perhaps this may also ring true for our church community as a whole. We’ve been pruned of so much in this season. Though we may not yet be able to see the fruit, I have faith that God is working.
In nature, spring always follows winter. What was dormant below the surface, breaks forth into new life. The same is true for our souls and for our church. The deep work that is done in winter is revealed when spring arrives. This is why I love hanging out in my backyard. As I see the evidence of spring all around me, I hear God’s whisper of hope. Our spiritual winter will come to an end. New life and greater fruitfulness is just around the corner.