The Winter Season of the Soul
Updated: Nov 24, 2021
This blog is the second in a series on Seasons of the Soul.
The very word “winter” congers up all kinds of images and feelings. I often associate nature’s wintery season with Christmas, which surfaces warm, fuzzy feelings of sentiment, as well as difficult memories stemming out of wounds from my past. Winter, when it comes to seasons of the soul, does not elicit warm, fuzzy feelings – it is quite the opposite. But just as God has a purpose for every season in nature, so He also brings purpose to the difficult and often harsh winter season of the soul.
We look to nature to describe what the winter season of the soul is like. As winter is dark and cold, so is the feeling of being in winter to the soul. The gloomy skies and icy temperatures accurately depict the way a soul feels in its winter season. Like the dead of winter in nature, the soul feels lifeless, uncertain if revival is even possible. In one of my favorite articles on this subject, Thriving in the Winter Season of the Soul, Mimi Dixon writes, “The winter of the soul is bleak, cold, dark, and fruitless. We lack the energy to engage in activities that just recently filled us with joy. Winter is a season of unwelcome brooding, often late at night, robbing us of sleep. Most things feel dead or appear to be so. The days are short, the nights stretch on and on. Winter never seems to end.”
Most of the year 2017 was a winter season for me. My stepmother had died in December 2016, and I found myself emotionally in an unexpected place. My father and stepmother had been married for 37 years and I felt the sadness of losing her. But what I was unprepared for was how this event triggered painful memories surrounding my parents’ divorce. For me, perhaps like many others, my first response was to shame myself for having the feelings I had, for not being able to “get over it and move on.” Mark Buchanan writes about this common response in his book, Spiritual Rhythm. He says that we might feel shame about being in winter, as if it is a personal failure in our walk with God, certain that it is our fault – that if we loved God more or really trusted Him, we wouldn’t find ourselves here.
Because the winter season is the most difficult to endure and therefore the most challenging to embrace, it can be helpful to have awareness that there is a deeper work of God going on in your life in this season. It may have been circumstances that brought you into winter. Or God may have drawn you into this season because of the shaping He is doing within you. Either way, because it feels cold, dark, and lonely, it is easy to assume that God is not present. But He is with you – yet in very different ways you may not recognize amid the barrenness. Winter is not a punishment from God. Far from it. It is a season in which God is drawing you more deeply into loving relationship with Him.
In 2017, triggered by grief and wounds from the past, I recognized the signs of winter in my soul. I knew that I needed to take time to grieve and to name my feelings. I found the compassion of the Lord with me in the season and began to have compassion on myself. I learned to keep company with Jesus, waiting for Him and knowing that my feelings didn’t shock Him – assured that He would never leave me.
What is God doing in the winter season of the soul?
He grieves with us.
He holds us.
He waits with us.
He breaks our self-dependency.
He deepens our trust in Him.
He brings us into deeper encounter with Him.
He always brings us into another season. He leads us out of winter.
Naming the current season of your soul can be beneficial for determining spiritual disciplines to engage with during those seasons. Below is a list of spiritual practices that can be helpful in the winter season of the soul.
Spiritual Disciplines for Winter
Wait (solitude) – spend time keeping company with Jesus – be willing to be with Him even if you don’t feel His presence.
Authenticity - pray in faith and in honesty. Be authentic with God. Be willing to be vulnerable.
Detachment – detach from the desires and outcomes you want in order to surrender to what God wants.
Embrace pruning - focus on simplicity, abandon finding your worth in things other than God, let go of useless activity.
Journaling – engage in this spiritual practice of writing down your thoughts and feelings.
Labyrinth – keep company with Jesus in a slow, quiet, meditative practice of making a journey towards God.
Lectio Divina – (divine reading) practice reading scripture with the intent of listening for God’s particular loving word for you – at this moment in time.
Safe community and/or spiritual friendship – be with people who can hold the anxiety of not fixing the situation.
Spiritual direction - a discipline that is particularly helpful in this season. We need safe people who are willing to stay with us in hard times. (See resources below for more information.)
Looking back on that difficult winter season in my soul, I can now see it was by the grace of God that I walked through the season. In the deadness of winter, God brought deep healing into abandoned and broken places in my heart. Then, without warning, one morning I noticed the stirrings of life in my soul. Like a crocus peeking out from a snowy landscape, my soul emerged from the winter season.
Think of a time when you might have experienced a winter season of the soul. What was (is) that experience like for you?
As you reflect on that season, what can you say about it from your current point of view?
Spend time listening to the Lord as you reflect. What does He help you notice?
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Thriving in the Winter Season of the Soul, article by Mimi Dixon
Spiritual Rhythm, Mark Buchanan
Solace of Fierce Landscapes, Belden C. Lane
Seasons of the Soul - first blog in this series
A Soul Companion - information about spiritual direction
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